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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

Beer: Barley, hops and shtick

By Greg Kitsock

blog-cowanbook.jpgSome beers are simple. You can brew a great pilsner, for instance, using only a single type of malt and one hop variety.

Other beers are almost absurdly complex. In that category would be Jewbelation Fourteen, which claims to be brewed from 14 malts (including flaked quinoa, spelt and oats) and 14 hops.

Jewbelation Fourteen, which measures 14 percent alcohol by volume, pours likes an imperial stout, ebony with a cocoa-colored head. But it lacks the coffee and roasty notes of that style. Instead, there is a great depth of crystal and Munich malt sweetness, an herbal, earthy spiciness, and a mild alcohol burn in the back of the throat. My first thought is to peg it as a black barley wine in the style of the Sierra Nevada Jack and Ken’s Ale released last summer.

“I was conscious of trying to create a monster brown ale,” says Jeremy Cowan, founder of Shmaltz Brewing Co., who contract-brews his He’Brew the Chosen Beer series of ales and Coney Island series of lagers at the Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Cowan isn’t actually a brewer; he describes what flavor profile he’s aiming for, then leaves the technical details to Paul McErlean, Olde Saratoga’s brewmaster. Cowan, however, might have more fingers in more pies than anyone in the craft brewing business (with the possible exception of Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione).

He’s written a book, with help from journalist James Sullivan: "Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah" recounts his 13-year journey to the promised land of brewing success. The book is available online and at select homebrew supply stores across the country. (It should appear in mainstream bookstores next spring).

Cowan has also released his Vertical Jewbelation variety pack consisting of all seven versions of his Jewbelation anniversary ale (including the Jewbelation Fourteen), plus a bottle of Vertical Jewbelation: a blend of those seven beers aged in Sazerac rye whiskey barrels. “It was a logistical super-project,” says Cowan. “All those eight-packs had to be packaged by hand.”

The gift set contains a custom-made glass, Hannukah candles and instructions on building a “beer menorah.” (These aren’t the first Jewish-themed tchotchkes that Cowan has handed out. At the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, he distributed yarmulkes screen-printed with the Shmaltz Brewing logo and the advisory, “This is not a Frisbee.”)

As an additional Hannukah promotion, Cowan has designated 88 “chosen bars” across the country to pour all eight Jewbelation beers during the eight days of the Festival of Lights, which began Dec. 1. Participating bars locally include ChurchKey in Logan Circle and Fire Works Pizza in Arlington.

Cowan will continue with his extreme beers and extreme promotions into 2011. To celebrate his 15th anniversary in brewing next spring, he plans to release Genesis 15: 15, a strong amber ale brewed with four fruits mentioned in the Bible: pomegranates, figs, dates and grapes. (The Biblical verse referenced consists of God’s assurance to Abraham: “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.”)

Sometime next summer, he’ll debut what he calls the country’s smallest fully licensed commercial brewery, capable of producing beer in one-gallon batches. The brewery and tasting room will occupy a 175-square-foot storefront adjacent to the Coney Island Circus Sideshow in New York City.

If you’d like to meet Cowan and hoist a glass of his beer while shouting "l’chaim!," the founder of Shmaltz Brewing plans to swing by this area next week. He says he’ll drop by the Star and Shamrock Tavern & Deli for a tasting and book signing on Monday, Dec. 13, and the following evening will pop up at Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore for a holiday beer bash. (Max’s is one of the chosen bars serving all Jewbelation beers this Hannukah season.)

By Greg Kitsock  | December 6, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer, Holiday  | Tags:  Greg Kitsock, beer, holiday  
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