Few beer brands have the chutzpah to carve out a niche for themselves with the sort of irreverence that the HE'BREW beer brand has (brewed by the Shmaltz Brewing Company, based in San Francisco, CA, brewed in Saratoga Springs, NY), but Stone Brewing Company's Arrogant Bastard ale comes to mind. Not that there's any arrogance included in Shmaltz's shtick (well, maybe just a hint), but there is plenty of pushing the proverbial envelope—to the point of appearing gimmicky. Take the tag line for all the HE'BREW beers: "The Chosen Beer", or that found on their Messiah Bold's label: "It's the Beer You've Been Waiting For", or the name of their 9th anniversary celebration beer: "Jewbelation 5766".
Truth is, there's no gimmick here—their beers are truly solid, superbly well-crafted offerings. The labels may go to extremes to attract attention, and there's an undeniable comedic element, but bottom line—this is good beer.
The brand actually got its start as an inside joke among founder Jeremy Cowan and friends who, while drinking one night in 1987, started brainstorming crazy marketing ideas for Jewish merchandise. The idea for a Kosher, Jewish-American, high holy days celebration beer called "HE'BREW", with the tag line "Don't Pass Out, Passover!" was born. While originally a concept borne out of jest, the idea remained a viable option Jeremy's mind. Eventually, in 1996, he brewed 100 cases of his first commercial batch with the goal of selling them for the Hanukah holiday; HE'BREW Genesis Ale was sold out of the trunk of his grandmother's Volvo—all 100 cases. In 1997 he quit his day job to dedicate more time to the brand, and by 2001 he was selling 5,000 cases per year; by 2004, 22,000 cases were moved! Since their founding in the year 5757 (per the Jewish or Hebrew Calendar) it has become a respected brand, distributed in 22+ states.
Microbrewed beer already caters to a niche market, making up less than 5% of total domestic beer sales, but a gourmet Kosher celebration microbrew? That's as niche as it gets. Takes a lot of chutzpah to market such a brew—and despite the shtick, the beer represents a genuine effort to participate in Jewish tradition. That being said, you needn't be a Jew to dig this brew! It's downright mishigas if you don't like it. L'Chaim!
For plenty more good schtick, check out their web site at www.shmaltz.com.