`Chosen Beer' Sales Grow Among Consumers Desiring Kosher Brew
By Debra Nussbaum Cohen
NEW YORK, Oct. 7 (JTA) -- In the beginning there was an idea and it was
good: Jewish beer, named ``He'Brew -- The Chosen Beer.''
The beginning, for beer developer Jeremy Cowan, was last Chanukah, and it
was so good that he sold every bottle of his 100 cases almost as soon as
they hit the shelves of the liquor stores, kosher delis and restaurants
that carried it in the San Francisco area.
Today Cowan, 28, has contracted with a leading micro-brewery and
professional beer distributors in the San Francisco area, and is selling as
many cases of the unconventional beer -- 500 -- in a week as he did during
the past nine months.
The beer, whose theme is "exile never tasted so good," is available in
stores throughout California and in other places by toll-free mail order
through The Wine Club.
The centerpiece of the beer's brightly colored label is a picture of a
Chasidic-looking rabbi looming over a landscape that puts the Golden Gate
Bridge right next to a Jerusalem skyline.
Although no beer is kosher for Passover -- hops are made from forbidden
grain -- the label's side panel answers the question: Why is this beer
different from all other beers?
As the label explains in a Jewish text-referenced way, the answer is
part-Jackie Mason shtick, part-micro-brewing expertise: "Our first
creation is Genesis Ale.
"Barley is one of seven Biblical species that celebrate the bounty of the
Land of Milk and Honey (Deut. 8.8), and He'Brew draws a symbolic link to
our own Garden of Eden in Northern California. A smidgen of Middle East, a
dash of American West."
Cowan shmaltzes it up on the label, which also says, "Like your bubbe's
chicken soup, there's no preservatives (or gefilte fish) added, store cold."
T-shirts, posters, pint glasses and other paraphernalia are available
directly through Cowan at his San Francisco-based company, Shmaltz
The beer is certified by a local kashrut agency.
The label also says that 10 percent of the beer's profits go to tzedakah,
Cowan said he has donated beer to Jewish organizations, which have
auctioned it off at their fund raisers.
His customer base has been diverse. Last Purim a Chabad house ordered a
keg, and "skateboard-MTV-type Jewish kids buy it at grocery stores,"
Cowan first hit on the idea a decade ago while talking with the only other
Jewish student in the high school they attended in Menlo Park, Calif., a
suburb about 30 miles south of San Francisco.
A year ago, Cowan talked a small group of his most faithful friends into
squeezing the juice out of pomegranates -- an early ingredient in the beer
that he had to drop when it made government labelling and kosher
certification requirements too complicated -- in his living room.
In the works is a full line including another beer, to be introduced next
summer, coffee drinks, teas and sodas, Cowan said.
"I want He'Brew to be like Manischewitz for the next generation," Cowan
said, "a high-quality product, but with a lot of funk and humor."