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Interview with a Brewer: Shmaltz

shmaltz-hebrewShmaltz Brewing Company is unique. You may have tried their HE’BREW beers with a distinctly Jewish slant, or you may have had their Coney Island freak show brews. Or maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Last year Shmaltz put up some impressive numbers, logging 80% growth in a recession. We got the opportunity to talk to CEO Jeremy Cowan who shared some great insight with us.

Shmaltz (which means “excessive sentimentality in art or music,” for the record) is especially interesting to us because:

  1. They have been contract brewing for years.
  2. They’ve got strong ties to religion. We are no where near as overt as Shmaltz, but we can’t deny the fact that we started because of a bible study.

Enjoy! And read previous interviews with brewers.

Congrats on the 80% growth! To what do you primarily attribute this to? Expansion into new territories? Increased consumption in existing territories? New products? Other?

The quality of our beers is what sells. We now have 12 beers within our two lines of HE’BREW Beer and Coney Island Craft Lagers. Yes, we do have more products on the shelves, and this increases our sales. However, if the beer didn’t speak for itself with delicious ingredients and a unique taste, then our sales would definitely not be up. The craft beer industry as a whole is up, and over the years as we’ve developed a dedicated cult following, they’ve embraced our new releases and are consistent buyers. We’ve also expanded our staff from just myself to seven official employees and a team of interns. This helps a lot with increasing our sales base as we are able to reach more retailers, bar owners and stay up with each regional wholesaler.

What one marketing tactic has had the most unexpected result for you?

For each new release in our HE’BREW Beer line, we have related shtick and Jewish history specific to each release. For example, the label of Origin, our pomegranate strong ale, embodies a beautiful design of a pomegranate tree along with biblical and world-cultural references to pomegranates being a sacred fruit. Its an immediate way to reach people–Make them laugh, and think and have it be some of the best beer they ever tasted. Our label design of our Coney Island Craft Lagers is over the top as it utilizes the design work of one of the top tattoo artists in NYC. We create labels that beer lovers remember!!  But, again its about what’s inside the bottle that keep them coming back.

Why the move from San Francisco all the way out to NY? Craft beer has strong ties to the community, how did the dynamics of moving affect this?

We still have our headquarters in San Francisco but spend a ton of time in NYC as well. So, we still embrace the Bay Area as a primary community and are able to reach a whole new set of Jews and freaks in NYC.

What’s your favorite thing about what you do?

I’m certainly really excited about the growth of the company over the past five years (1000%), but I’m most proud of the quality and uniqueness of the products we’ve created, and drinking a Shmaltz beer with the kick-butt staff that has become my working family over the past two years!

Has Shmaltz ever had any opposition from religious groups and if so, how did you handle it? We ask because we started out of a bible study and expect some opposition from the Christian religious right at some point.

No, not really. The Jewish community loves what we are doing and has been extremely supportive.

From what I can gather, you’ve been contract brewing for years. How has this contract relationship with Mendocino progressed over time and do you ever want to have your own physical brewery?

Paul McErlean has been our main brewer at Mendocino Brewing Company and has been creating fantastic beers for us over the years. I plan to stick with what has worked so well for us. We are considering opening a retail space and/or bar in NYC. I’ll keep you posted if/when we go for it!!

Why the decision to brand Coney Island beers separately from HE’BREW?

Well, its reaches and represents a slightly different demographic. It’s all under the Shmaltz banner, so people expect it to be delicious and outrageous!! We had the good fortunate of Coney Island USA approaching us to make a beer for America’s favorite playground. The Coney line represents Brooklyn’s historic Coney Island neighborhood, so it works well for us to appeal to sideshow enthusiasts and everyone who appreciates delicious beer and  delicious shtick.

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