For most of the past 18 years, Shmaltz Brewing Company — or at least its Jewish-themed, comically named line of craft beers — has been a well-known presence in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City.
But these days, it considers upstate New York home.
“I think in another 60 days this will be our biggest market, which is pretty exciting,” said founder and owner Jeremy Cowan. “Right now, we’re big in New York City and California and Florida and Texas. But I’m here five days a week now.”
“Here” is Clifton Park, where the company opened its very first production brewery last spring. After 17 years of contracting with other breweries to produce its award-winning craft beer, Shmaltz Brewing took the leap and opened its own 20,000-square-foot brewery off Exit 10 of the Northway in fast-growing Saratoga County.
“Traditionally, you see a brewery start in a neighborhood or city and that’s their biggest market, and eventually they expand into the next city and the next state and so on,” he said. “My model was always to sell a little bit of beer everywhere and not a ton of beer anywhere, but when we opened the brewery it really changed our approach.”
The area was already familiar with Shmaltz Brewing. In 2003, the company contracted with the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company, a Mendocino Brewing Company facility in Saratoga Springs, to produce its famous He’brew “The Chosen Beer” line of beers. But Cowan said Shmaltz has experienced phenomenal growth by locating a brewery here.
And in just the past month, under a partnership with a new distributor, regional sales have tripled for Shmaltz.
“I was blown away,” said Cowan. “It’s been a month. It’s amazing.”
The company announced last week that it had switched distributors from Craft Beer Guild Distributing of New York, based in New Paltz, to Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service, just up the Northway in Saratoga Springs. Shmaltz beers are now shipped to restaurants, bars and retailers across a broader local region that stretches from the Capital Region up to Canada.
“Having a hyper-local distributor that’s just 15 minutes away from us ensures our customers will get the very freshest beer every time,” he said. “Another big reason for the switch was access to more accounts and more sales reps.”
Cowan founded the company in 1996 as an experiment for Hanukkah. He personally delivered 100 hand-bottled, hand-labeled cases of He’brew beer from the trunk of his grandmother’s Volvo around the San Francisco Bay Area. The next year, he moved production of “The Chosen Beer” to one of the top breweries in the world and expanded distribution to Chicago and New York.
The beer quickly attracted a cult following due to what the company likes to call “delicious beer and delicious shtick.” The bottles feature names, slogans, logos and labels chock full of playful Jewish references and pop culture.
Over the years, Shmaltz Brewing has launched a number of new beers. Some of them are seasonal. Most of them are amusingly named. There’s the award-winning line of the He’brew “The Chosen Beers,” featuring names like Jewbelation, Death Of A Contract Brewer, David’s Slingshot and Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A., a tribute beer to the late comedian Lenny Bruce. These are available in more than 35 states through more than 40 wholesalers at nearly 5,000 retail and specialty shops. There’s also a line of Coney Island Craft Lagers with names like Sword Swallower, Albino Python, Freaktoberfest and Human Blockhead.
The Clifton Park brewery is still young, but the company has already brought in new equipment to boost capacity from 20,000 barrels a year to 35,000. In its first year open, regional sales grew a whopping 700 percent. Staff has doubled from 10 to 20 employees — with the new hires all from the Capital Region.
In addition, 7,000 craft beer lovers have visited an on-site tasting room at the brewery for tours, barrel-aged previews and special releases.
“People are starting to realize this is the single greatest time in the history of humanity to drink a great beer and it sounds silly but it’s true,” Cowan said. “I think even in smaller markets like Clifton Park and the Greater Capital Region, we have access to world-class beer. So there’s no going back. I don’t think craft beer is a fad. I think it’s a permanent way of life.”