Condensation beaded on the glass as Ben clinked glasses with his friends Dave and Alex and with a chorus of “L’chaim,” they all took a sip of their beers.
“Well that lives up to its name at least,” Ben said, pointing to the “Rejewvenator” listed on the paper menu in front of him. (Participants asked that their last names not be used.)
The beer, brewed with figs and dates, was one of over a dozen on offer by the Shmaltz Brewing Company last Saturday at Jack Rose Dining Saloon. The event was part of a larger national campaign for the company, celebrating the opening of its own brewery in New York this summer. Previously, the company had produced craft beer by contracting with other breweries for space and equipment.
“We wanted to be able to control our own destiny,” said Shmaltz founder and owner Jeremy Cowan.
The rising demand for Shmaltz’s product also played a role in the decision to acquire their own manufacturing space said Zak Davis, national sales manager for Shmaltz.
“We’ve been contract brewing forever,” he said. “So this is a new thing for us.”
Cowan and the rest of Shmaltz began brewing in 1996 in San Francisco, creating the HE’BREW line of kosher-certified beer. Starting with a small, hand-delivered production, they’ve since expanded into a national distribution of both HE’BREW and their Coney Island Craft Lagers lines of beers to bars and specialty stores, producing more than 200,000 cases of beer a year.
Along with more space, the new brewery provides an opportunity to experiment.
“It will give us a home to explore every single thing we feel like doing,” Cowan said.
One of the first examples of that exploration is the “Death of a Contract Brewer” beer made especially for the opening of the brewery. Containing seven percent alcohol by volume and seven kinds of malts and hops and debuting on July 7, it’s the first black IPA, Indian pale ale, Shmaltz has produced.
“It’s a really meaningful beer,” Cowan said.
The sevens are meant to represent the seven days of sitting shiva he explained, as part of the end of their contract brewing phase.
“I usually drink dark beers, and this is pretty good,” Alex said.
Dave meanwhile, had decided to go for his namesake’s beer, David’s Slingshot.
“I don’t know if it could knock down a giant,” he said laughing after being asked about the strength of the beer. “It is nice though especially when it’s so hot out right now.”
As part of the D.C. rollout, Jack Rose put on some promotional games — fishing for rubber ducks with magnets, bowling using light balls and large plastic baby bottles — all with a chance to win beer and other prizes.
Cowan, who once lived in the area, said that Shmaltz has a good relationship with a few bars in the area.
“We’ve been doing in business in D.C. for 10 years,” he said.
It’s a good time for expansion in the area as well, as interest in the kinds of craft beers produced at Shmaltz is higher than ever.
“The beer community in Washington has expanded so fast,” he said. “The beer market in D.C. is really spectacular.”
The increased capacity means not only more varieties but more of the already popular products they produce, which Cowan said the contract brewing method couldn’t keep up with successfully anymore.
“Our goal is to supply it to those who have been asking for it,” Cowan said.
“I’d definitely want to try more of them,” Alex said. His friends nodded agreement as they all eyed the line of beers displayed behind the bar.
“It’s definitely the kind of thing you could bring to a beer party that would stand out,” Ben said. “Plus it’s kosher so I can even bring it to my grandparents’ house.”