My Beer of theWeek today in the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa (CA) Times and other MediaNews papers was Jewbilation from He’brew, the San Francisco-based beer company founded by Jeremy Cowan. For background, here’s an article I wrote for Northwest Brew News, Seattle in 2005.
The photo of Jeremy, left, comes from the Brookston Beer Bulletin,
taken by Bulletin editor Jay Brooks, who long was associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and before that was in charge of beer at the Beverages and More chain. It’s a blog I highly recommend. Check it out.
By William Brand
SAN FRANCISCO – “He’Brew – The Chosen Beer.’’ It all began as a joke between two high school kids in suburban San Francisco, a long time ago.
“We were the only Jewish kids in our immediate group of friends,’’ Jeremy Cowan explains. It was back in the 1980s. Sam Adams had been on the market a little while. They thought, `You know what – Jews need their own beer.’
They played with the idea and came up with slogans like `Don’t Pass Over Sober.’
Those 17-year-olds never would have guessed that two decades later that very beer would be sold in 20 states and the people – Jews and most everybody else – would laugh at the joke and enjoy the beer.
Cowan recalls that He’brew remained an inside joke among friends for years, but the craft beer movement in the San Francisco Bay Area kept growing and Cowan got serious. It’s not widely publicized, but Jews have an incredible drinking and brewing tradition, he said. “I came up with He’brew. I thought it would be a fun idea, a unique idea. I had bartended; I had worked at a brewpub in New Orleans,’’ he said. But he was not a brewer.
So he went to a `brew on premises’ shop in Mountain View, CA to work out a formula. “I wanted to make a really good beer that I could be proud of,’’ Cowan said. “It was just a tiny place,’’ Cowan said. “But the brewer there was really good.’’
He’s not kidding. The brewer was Simon Pesch. Today he’s head brewer at Pryamid’s large brewery in Berkeley, CA. He remembers Jeremey Cowan and the beer. “I came up with a pretty traditional English style ale for the first recipe,’’ Pesch says. “I did like that beer.’’
He’Brew was a big success and soon Cowan was the only the shop’s only contract customer. “He did a lot of volume, compared to our retail customers, who usually made seven gallon batches,’’ Pesch said. “He was ordering 20 barrel batches – that was the size of our entire system.’’
This was 1996. Jeremey started out with 100 bottles of He’Brew. The label shows an Hassidic Jew with a full beard and wearing traditional black clothing – except for the hat. It’s red.
Cowan loaded the beer into his grandmother’s station wagon and peddled them to retailers. It was a steep learning curve, he said. “I had no business experience. I was an English major. I didn’t know what an invoice was; I had never heard of wholesalers.’’
But merchants laughed and they bought his beer. He was onto something big. Today He’brew Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold are sold all along the East Coast, in most of the Midwest and in California.
Cowan said he’s bringing his beer to Washington State this summer. “We’ve gotten a go ahead from a wholesaler and put in the paperwork to the state,’’ he said.
The beer has evolved slowly. He says he always wanted great beer. As sales boomed, he moved his contract to Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville, CA, home of some of America’s best-regarded and hoppiest ales.
Last year, as sales boomed, he switched to Mendocino Brewing’s Sarasota Springs, NY brewery. He also added 12 ounce bottles, which boosted sales sharply.
When he switched to 12 ouncers, he also changed his Messiah style from a stout to a brown ale. But he kept the logos and slogan: “Genesis Ale – The Chosen Beer’’ and “Messiah Bold – The One You’ve Been Waiting For.’’
Genesis Ale is made with pale, caramel , dark crystal, Munich barley malts and a touch of wheat. Finishing hop is Willamette. Messiah uses Carapils, dark crystal, caramel, dark chocolate and Victory malts, Cascade and Mt. Hood hops.
This past December, he released his first holiday beer – the holiday was Hanukkah, of course. Miraculous Jewbelation was made with eight malts, eight hops and was 8 percent alcohol by volume. It sold out quickly.
It’s still a tiny little business in the world of beer. He remains a one-man-company and he spends much of Cowan says. About the future, who knows. But Jeremy Cowan has quit his day job.
More information about He-brew can be found at: www.shmaltz.com.