Jeremy Cowan of Shmaltz Brewing Company Talks Geektoberfest, Jewish Celebration & How Sour is the New Bitter
Jeremy Cowan started Shmaltz Brewing Company back in 1996 out of his San Francisco apartment. Now, the beer is brewed in upstate New York and includes the line of HE'BREW craft kosher beers and Coney Island Craft Lagers. Cowan is busy this week as NYC Craft Beer Week is in full swing. He tells us where you can find him and his beers now through October 3.
This is a big week for you guys. What should we be looking out for at NYC Craft Beer Week?
We hosted the kick-off party called Freaktoberfest -- it was our third annual -- which showcases all of our favorite and what we think are some of the best craft beers from around the country with performers: bands from New York and the Freakshow performers from Coney Island, doing burlesque acts, juggling, sword swallowing, and hammering nails to their face. It was a huge hit and we are off and running with New York Craft Beer Week with events that feature the official beer we put together as a project called Geektoberfest. Geektoberfest is definitely not a traditional Oktoberfest beer. It's specifically intended to shatter any expectations of anything to do with what I find to be a somewhat less interesting beer style than most of the other great craft beers that are going on right now.
Wow. Sounds intriguing.
Geektoberfest is a blend of seven different craft beers brewed at our facility from Shmaltz Brewing Company, Ithaca Beer Company, and Captain Lawrence. The beer itself is a ridiculous, delicious project I've been calling the absolutely most expensive kitchen sink beer ever produced. The Captain Lawrence beer is a sour brown in a traditional Belgian or boutique European style that was aged in port barrels for over two years. The beer from Ithaca is their nut brown ale that's been aged in barrels that were previously used for Sam Adams Utopias, as well as Buffalo Trace bourbon. And the beers from Shmaltz Brewing Company are our Jewbelation series, which is our high-octane anniversary seasonals. We blended four different years Jewbelation, as well as Rejewvenator: our harvest seasonal. It's a big, strong brown ale brewed with grape juice this year. And finally, in honor of the Circus Sideshow at Freaktoberfest, we put in a healthy serving of the Human Blockhead, which is our imperial European lager aged in Sazerac six-year rye whiskey barrels. The beer is featured all week long at Blind Tiger, 4th Avenue Pub, and The Gate. It should make an appearance at Spuyten Duyvil and Barcade.
Are collaborations between breweries common?
Collaborations have become a much more prevalent part of experimenting to make unique beers and to have a bunch of fun. Basically, we have not done as many collaborations ourselves because I don't own the brewery, but there have been some really fantastic examples of collaborations from West Coast-East Coast or American and European breweries. This was a chance for us to feature some very unique beers from three outstanding breweries in New York State that are creating a real reputation for themselves in New York City. It's been a really exciting project and I think it's been a very successful blend. The beer itself is spectacular.
What can you tell me about aged beers? Is it a major trend of the moment?
It's a big point of enthusiasm and experimentation. It's still a tiny slice of the beer market, but what's happening in craft beer is that the overall market is growing. People are looking for more flavorful, if not exceptional craft beers from small producers. It's not just a fad. It's clearly the market shifting in that direction as the biggest beer companies in the country have a harder and harder time selling their products just based on marketing and advertising. Craft brewers sell these unique and innovative products based on passion and artistic sensibility. Barrel-aged beers and aged beers are the fringe of craft beer, but that's were the excitement is, much like craft beer is the excitement in the overall industry in the United States. Barrel-aged beers, alternative yeast strains, beers aged on different things, whether it's fresh cherries or maple syrup or oak chips. That's where the excitement is in craft beer, where the experimentation and passion is happening.
I recently heard someone say that sour is the new bitter.
That's awesome. Somebody's got to have that as their bumper sticker. It's not that sour is the new bitter. IPAs are still the fastest growing category in the country now that the hop crisis is seeming to pass, hoppy beers are back in full force. But sour beers are starting to take hold in a way that really hoppy beers or even just extreme beers started being prevalent at the best beer bars on a consistent basis. I think in the next several years, just about every small craft brewery is going to be featuring something that will be, if not specifically sour, at least containing some of the elements of those types of beers.
Are there any trends or phenomena in the beer world that you're sick of seeing at this point?
No, other than chasing the mediocrity of the biggest beers in the country. It's one thing I understand when brewpubs feel like they need to have a light color session beer for some of their customers, why serve them someone else's light beer? Obviously, craft brewers know how to make pale golden ales that can be even more complex and delicious, but there's been a bit of a backlash within this tiny little group that we call the craft beer community against extreme beer for people who want to see more session ales and low-alcohol beers. Yet, all of us who've finally scraped together a living and are just on the cusp of affording health insurance for ourselves for the first time in our careers have built our companies based on innovation. Even my company, we put out a pilsner this year for the first time, which I vowed never to do. I think that the style has been so perverted that everybody calls whatever they're making a pilsner and it generally is their least interesting product, so we tried to do what I hoped was an interesting take on a pretty stale style.