Many thanks to writer, Bryan Carey, for this fantastic review of Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah on Examiner.com!
Everyone has a career dream. For some, it involves achieving the educational attainment necessary to enter a specific field. For others, it involves the independence that comes with business ownership. If the independence of a sole proprietorship is selected, the path from idea to success can be a rocky one and nowhere is this truer than with the business ofbeer. Opening up a brewery is no easy feat, yet there seems to be no shortage of individuals ready to cash in their life savings, purchase a few fermentation tanks, hire some help, and hope for the best. One man with a brewing plan of sorts is Jeremy Cowan, founder of Shmaltz Brewing Company and he shares his series of growing pains in his business biography, Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How it Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing Company an International Success. Let’s take a look:
In the Beginning:
Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is 332 pages of business and personal history of Cowan’s unorthodox attempt to launch his own brand of beer. The book opens with Cowan sharing some background information on his early years, his family, his educational pursuits, and his ultimate decision to enter the business of beer. Cowan was raised Jewish and in tongue-in-cheek fashion, he decides to name is new product “He’Brew” with the tagline, “The Chosen Beer.” He then set off on a business adventure that would consume him for the next decade and beyond.
Finding the necessary capital to operate a brewery can be very difficult and Cowan shares his financial struggles with the reader throughout most of the book. But money wasn’t the only problem- Cowan also had issues with copyrights, label approval, government officials, contractors, and most everything else. At several points, Cowan was forced to turn to his personal credit cards and any other means available to pay expenses and suppliers. And he was constantly challenged by others who tried to infringe on his brand name and tagline, even though he fully admits that he took far too long to jump the necessary legal hurdles.
Cowan Sees the Light:
Shmaltz Brewing was a constant struggle for Cowan in the early days, but the business did score a major breakthrough with the launching of a new lineup of beers tailor- made for the American East Coast. Shmaltz Brewing already had a foothold on the west coast with its Jewish- themed beer, so it made sense to expand to the other side of the continent. The move to the East Coast was partly inspired by the fact that the New York area had very few craft breweries and therefore seemed ripe for some creative expansion. New York already has a large Jewish population that would hopefully be receptive to the He’Brew line of beer, but Cowan felt a new direction was needed and, borrowing on the Coney Island theme and name, he created a new lineup of lagers based on the Coney Island theme park and its many attractions. His business finally appeared to be going places and just a little more work would put it over the top and into the black for the first time.
And it Was Good!:
Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is a fun, perplexing, and yet inspiring book about one man who set out to make it big in the business of beer and finally succeeded. A real trip (in more ways than one), Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is a book about perseverance and, in many ways, how not to plan and execute when starting a new company.
Jeremy Cowan’s success story is like few others in the beer business or any business. I have sampled beer from the Coney Island and He’Brew product lines and found them interesting for many reasons. Not only did they offer quality taste, but they featured eye- catching artwork on the Coney Island bottles and, of course, the humorous name and tagline on the He’Brew product line. They have a certain eccentric personality and when I learned that the guy behind this beer had written a business biography, I was anxious to grab a copy. If the man behind the beer was even half as intriguing as the beer itself, I knew the story would have to be one worth reading.
And worth reading it most certainly is! Craft beer Bar Mitzvah is an intriguing read that is every bit as interesting as the beer its founder helped create, and even more so. Here, you have a guy with an interesting idea for a brand of beer and a desire to make it work, but without any real direction on what to do or how to make the plan reality. Jeremy Cowan certainly had a love for fine malt beverages as well as a creative mind, but he had no real guidance on how to put a business plan into action. He did receive positive words of praise from many individuals who tried his beer and liked both its flavor and its amusing titles, all borrowing on the Jewish religion and theme. But Cowan had no practical business experience or prior experience brewing beer- not even on a home brewing level. His education on starting a company and establishing a brand are truly based on the school of hard knocks. He stumbled and fell down many times, with more bruises than most budding businessmen would be able to bear. But each time, he licked his wounds, pulled himself together, and continued on his pursuit.
Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is all about running a brewing operation, but it isn’t like other business books on the same subject. The reason is because Jeremy Cowan is actually a contract brewer, which means he contracts other breweries to brew the product while he handles most of the marketing and CEO- type duties. Cowan openly admits that he isn’t really interested in brewing beer. His interest lies more along the lines of tasting, creating, and marketing. This stands in contrast to other beer success stories, which often involve an individual who started from the ground up first as a home brewer, then as a worker inside a brewery, then finally as an independent business person. Cowan has bypassed all of that, preferring instead to dedicate his time to promoting the brand and drinking it whenever possible.
Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah has many memorable moments and surprises. Cowan speaks openly and honestly about his own excesses with drinking; his recreational use of drugs; his failed marriage; and his issues with money. He even includes a snapshot of an actual Social Security earnings statement/summary he received, showing his lopsided earnings history over the years. He has some years where he made nothing at all and he admits feeling discouraged and frustrated more times than he can count. But in spite of the setbacks, the disagreements, the legal challenges, and the lack of cash flow, he continues to move forward with his plan, or lack thereof.
This book discusses what should be a serious subject, but it is actually very lightened up and loaded with great humor throughout. Readers will laugh out loud as they listen to Cowan’s describe his struggles with government officials to approve the wording on his labels (like his slogan, “Don’t Pass Out, Passover”), read some of Cowan’s selections for beer names, and ponder over the exhaustive appendix listing of the more than 600 laws taken from the Old Testament Torah. The fun and suspense never seem to stop and as you read, you wonder what misadventure, what problem, or what obstacle will take place next. Will Cowan finally achieve his dream of a successful beer brand or will he cave in to pressure and fold the business? Even if you have already sampled Shmaltz beer and know it is still around, the book’s good humor and unpredictability keep you turning the pages. Journalist James Sullivan co- wrote the book and he is undoubtedly responsible for some of its memorable moments of journalistic creativity, but none of that would be possible without the real- life humor supplied by Jeremy Cowan and his unorthodox approach to business and life.
My Bottom Line:
Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah is a memorable read. Certainly proof of Murphy’s Law, this is a book about business by direct experience; reaction instead of pro- action, learning by default, and success through stubborn perseverance. The antithesis of the typical business book, it’s a very good essay about business success and how not to go from point “A” to point “B” while still making everything work in the end. As Jeremy would say, it’s all about the schtick and the love of great craft beer. That, along with the entertaining writing and the endless humorous anecdotes makes Craft beer Bar Mitzvah one of the best books on this difficult but often rewarding business.