Jeremy Cowan, Founder, Shmaltz Brewing Co.

Last Call by | Jun 2011 | Issue #53

Chances are, you’ve met Jeremy Cowan. He’s the face of Shmaltz Brewing out of San Francisco, but he travels tirelessly, pouring his own beers at festivals and bringing his signature brand of smart humor to the industry. Cowan will greet you from behind his own booth one minute, then pop up behind a neighboring booth the next, exchanging samples and jokes with fellow brewers… but he’ll still turn and ask how you enjoyed your Shmaltz.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Since I had no idea what I was doing when I started—[I was an] English major, not brewer or business guy—I asked advice from nearly everyone I could get my hands on. On the marketing side, an early advisor told me to pick three ideas that described my vision for the company and stay very focused on those three—do them over and over in every element of the business, from recipes to labels to press releases to events. I realized I had the Three Pillars of Shmaltz: quality, community and shtick.

Describe the most memorable concert you’ve ever attended.
Though I was a maniacally devoted teenage fan, I didn’t get to see Rush live until my early 30s. When they busted into “YYZ” a few songs into the first set, I started bawling. I loved it, and air-banded the entirety along with all the dudes on either side of me.

Which brewers/breweries do you look up to and why?
I’m inspired by the breweries that have kept their rabidly indie beer sensibilities as they’ve grown—and in fact become even more intense in their recipe and packaging personalities—which has, in turn, further driven us to explore and enjoy their beers. Plenty of bigger regional craft examples, but the small to medium ones would include the Ithaca Excelsior series, The Bruery, Terrapin’s oneoffs and New Holland’s barrel-aged goodies.

What would you go back and tell yourself on the day of your bar mitzvah?
Don’t expect Hot Borscht, the band at my bar mitzvah, to play an impressive Led Zeppelin cover.

What’s been your favorite Shmaltz project?
Our Jewbelation series continues to evolve, and I love the project and the complex flavors. That line really moved my ideas about my own business from being a community-based niche product to what I wanted to become—a serious beer company. … I’m proud that our little quirky lineup of dancing rabbis and circus sideshow freaks gets to participate with the best craft beers in the country.

What inspires you as a brewer?
Obvious: puns, rock lyrics, the Torah. Related: fear, satire, sex, late-night smack-talking at bars, friends and big, bold, kickass beers.

What’s the value of beer to American culture?
The growth and possibility of ongoing success for so many small brewers who’ve survived—through better beer taste, humor, endless work and authenticity—the incredible grind of the beer business should be a point of pride for all of us—and all Americans. In the face of a macro beer industry that churns out and then relies on the beer propaganda of mediocrity, craft beer is a bright spot proving that creativity, interpersonal consumer education and hard work can still carve out a successful and meaningful place in the world. L’chaim!