Interview with Omnivore

L’chaim! It’s a Craft Beer Bar Mitvah


by Austin L. Ray for Omnivore, Food and Drink Blog of Creative Loafing Atlanta

Fri, Nov 11, 2011

Adventurous drinkers know Jeremy Cowan as the man who brought beers such as the HE’BREW Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. (a rye double India Pale Ale produced in tribute to late comedian Lenny Bruce) and the Coney Island Craft Lager series (of which a portion of the sales benefits the actual Coney Island) to Georgia. Since he started Shmaltz Brewing Company in San Francisco in 1996, Cowan has been creating and refining the Chosen Beers, his signature line of Jewish/pop culture-addicted ales, expanding to include the Coney Island line in 2008. On Sunday and Monday, he visits Atlanta as both brewer and author. He’ll be reading from, signing and generally promoting his new, self-published book, Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, at Brick Store, Manuel’s, Hop City and the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival. Although Craft Beer Bar Mitvah‘s blurb claims the book will explain “how it took 13 years, extreme Jewish brewing, and circus sideshow freaks to make Shmaltz Brewing Company an international success,” we asked Cowan to elaborate a bit on the project.

Did you feel the world was clamoring for the tale of a self-described “Jewish Celebration Freak Show Craft Brewery”?
Absolutely! As is true with our beers, the Jewish Freakshow community being maybe 2 percent of the overall population, and with small craft beers being less than less than 5 percent of the beer market, I quantify the book market for Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah to be essentially within striking distance of 0 percent of overall readers. Niche, baby! But all we need is a few thousand of that tiny tribe and we are golden.

What was the impetus to get your story on paper?
My grandmother wrote a few books on technical writing and I loved looking at her name on the spine. That, and to prove an English degree was worth something, to write the great American novel—except non-fiction, and with beer.

You collaborated with your friend and published author/journalist, James Sullivan, to write the book. How did the creative process work between the two of you?
Jim listened to me wax only slightly poetic for a couple of hours on the phone each week for well over six months. He typed up my rambling stories, edited them into a more coherent structure, and then I started cranking on edits and re-writes until I thought I would lose my mind. Having Jim as a professional author gave me the confidence and a voice of wisdom that pushed the finished product far beyond anything I could have done on my own.

For the uninitiated, what does “Extreme Jewish Brewing” entail?
Normally, Jews don’t believe in active attempts to convert anyone to our traditions. However, in the realm of beer, I wanted to pursue all those exceptional beer drinkers who love wild styles, creative recipes, and outrageous flavors. My version of extreme beer – the Shmaltz shtick – always ties into Jewish traditions from the ingredients such as sacred species listed in the Torah, to holidays, great Jewish thinkers, and pop cultural icons.

You sold close to 1,500 copies simply through your loyal Shmaltz fans and distribution network. Were you surprised at that number, especially given that you self-published initially?
Yes! I am astounded and it has been extremely gratifying to have the little cult of the Shmaltz tribe engage with this book. Especially gratifying, however, and ultimately the goal of the specific writing of the book, was to stand on its own as a compelling work that can be judged, read and appreciated without knowing anything about our beers. Honestly, the greatest compliments I have received so far have been from both friends and strangers who said simply, “I finished the entire book.” For a business book, and for something so personal, that seems like a huge success.

Now that the book is finished, are you planning a follow-up?
Hell yeah, coming in 2013, a history of Jews and beer from ancient Mesopotamia to modern craft brewing. I’m working with another journalist from New York and we’ve already uncovered a ton of fantastic historical information. We will be exploring the secret Hebrew connections through modern craft beer.

Once you finish up the book tour, what’s on the horizon for your breweries? Any interesting beers coming up?
It is our 15th anniversary this year and we are launching a ton of new ambitious projects that I can’t wait to share with everyone, starting with Genesis 15:15 (launching right now), our barrel-aged harvest barleywine, to Jewbelation 15 coming out next month, and our newly re-designed Genesis dry-hopped session ale. Not to mention our first ever straight-up 6.5%, 65 IBU single IPA, called Hop Manna.

Events: Manuel’s Tavern Reading & Signing (With Shmaltz Beers on Draft), Sunday, Nov. 13, Free, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.

Brick Store Pub Meet and Greet (with a vintage keg of Jewbelation on tap), Sunday, Nov. 13, Free, 7:30 p.m.

Hop City Reading and Signing, Monday, Nov. 14, Free, 4 p.m-6 p.m., 404-350-9998,

MJCCA Book Festival, Monday, Nov. 14, Price varies, 7:30 p.m.,