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The Genesis of HE'BREW-- The Chosen Beer
By Erin O'Briant
It took a lot of chutzpah, but a Noe Valley resident has successfully introduced a beer label with a Jewish sense of humor. "HE'BREW The Chosen Beer" was created by 29-year-old Cesar Chavez Street resident Jeremy Cowan.
"About 10 years ago, in high school, some friends and I were joking around, and the idea for HE'BREW just popped out," says Cowan. "It was an in-joke among my friends until the summer before last, when I started thinking this could really happen. Next thing I knew I had two fulltime jobs."
Cowan, a caterer who also worked as a bartender, consulted a brewer who helped him concoct a recipe. To give the beer a Middle Eastern flavor, they experimented by adding pomegranate juice to the mix. "My friends and I were literally squeezing pomegranates on my living room floor," he laughs.
Once he was satisfied with his creation, he christened the beer Genesis Ale (of course). Then he took $2,000 from his savings and used it to bottle the first batch. With the help of a friend, his mom, and his grandmother's Volvo, he delivered 100 cases of HE'BREW to Bay Area stores in time for the first night of Hanukkah, 1996.
And it was good. "The world was thirsting for schtick, and HE'BREW provided some shmaltzy one-liners. It's a beer even your mother would love," Cowan quips.
Since then, his business has continued to grow, although pomegranate juice has been dropped from the recipe. "It was just too difficult to make," says Cowan, "and it made kosher certification harder to get."
But even without the juice -- and the puns on the label ("Don't pass out, Passover") -- Genesis Ale would be a tasty lager. "It's a light brown ale," Cowan says, "that can appeal to people who don't drink beer very often and also to beer drinkers who like a beer with flavor." He recommends it for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs -- ID required -- or for anywhere people are "kibitzing or cavorting."
Though he has his own company -- the Shmaltz Brewing Company -- Cowan is a contract brewer, which means that he pays an established brewery to produce his beer. HE'BREW is made at Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Booneville, California, one of the top 10 breweries in the world.
"The most important things to know about HE'BREW are that we have the best brewer, the best ingredients, and the best brewing process -- and also that this beer is about community involvement," Cowan says.
His beer is also the first of its kind to be certified by Kosher Supervision of America under the strictest Orthodox standards.
"This is a beer to celebrate the Jewish community," says Cowan. "The product is primarily for the Jewish community, but the beer's humor is appealing to lots of people. By the way, Noe Valley is a great place for it because there is such an active Jewish community here. There's even a synagogue."
In accordance with Jewish tradition, Cowan donates 10 percent of his profits to charity. HE'BREW beer has flowed freely at events for the Jewish Museum San Francisco, the Traveling Jewish Theater, Bay Area synagogues, a women's educational organization, and local environmental groups.
It also has appeared on two popular NBC television shows: Friends (a bottle was on Joey and Chandler's fridge) and Veronica's Closet (HE'BREW appeared on a poster in the break room). Plus, TV Guide honored Cowan and his beer with a brief write-up a couple of months ago.
Once in a while, though, the attention isn't so positive: "I get the occasional voice mail from people who see the label and get mad, but who really haven't taken the time to read it and find out what the beer is about. Most people get that this beer is a positive statement about being Jewish in the United States," says Cowan.
If they liked Genesis, they're bound to go for the second beer Cowan is testing: Messiah Stout, "the beer you've been waiting for." This new brew is darker and richer than Genesis Ale. "Messiah Stout has a more aggressive taste, but it's still approachable," he says. Of his two offerings, it's too soon to tell which will be "King of the Brews."
Right now Cowan is working on expanding his market into Chicago and Southern California. But HE'BREW is available in quite a few venues in the Bay Area. Several Noe Valley merchants stock it, including Urban Cellars, Graystone Liquor, Mikeytom Market, and the Rat and Raven bar. The retail price is around $3 for a 22-ounce bottle.
For more information (watch out for puns), call 648-HEBREW or e-mail Jer-emy Cowan at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a web site at www.shmaltz.com. To order a HE'BREW tee shirt or pint glass, call 1-800-966-7835.