Shmaltz Brewing Company was bustling. It was a chilly Wednesday evening, International Women’s Day to be exact, and visitors were trickling in for the annual Collaboration Brew Day happy hour where owner Jeremy Cowan was distributing pieces of cake, kibitzing with employees and guests. Tasting room manager Shane Blaze Egan poured out crowd favorites, like the Messiah Nut Brown Ale and honorable guest of the evening, the 2016 She’Brew. A sweet, malt brew with hints of mango, pineapple and a nice little bit of hops, it’s a refreshing triple IPA that packs a punch with an alcohol level of 11 percent.
The tasting room features an array of the Jewish brewery’s unique flavors. From the classic He’Brew and She’brews to the shocking Pastrami Pils–a dynamic beer that shocks your taste buds with hints of rye, caraway and a bite of horseradish that tingles the nose. “I always call it the ‘three sip’ beer,” Cowan says. “I got the best description from a friend recently, of how you taste beer: shock, acclimation, understanding.” And that’s just what you’ll need for this little number. The flavors rush at you, as if you just bit into a thick cut Pastrami sandwich and like all of Shmaltz’s various brews, it’s KSA certified kosher.
The swinging doors of the industrial brewery open to rows of stainless steel vats and fermentors that are constantly cooking. Just outside, while there is still a bitter chill in the air, the staff is already making plans for a firepit in their grassy lawn. In the warmer weather visitors will sit in the sun enjoying a pint, playing cornhole and other patio games.
“In the spring we have hops growing up here,” Egan says as he gestures to the roof of the spacious building. The 21-year-old company (“We’re finally legal,” jokes Egan) seems at first glance like an adorable microbrew. However their distribution is beastly–their 30-40 beers are featured in 37 states in the U.S as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong, China. A number of the brews have won gold medals in U.S. and international competitions, contributing to the brewery’s grand total–so far–of 35 awards.
In addition to their own ventures, Shmaltz now owns Alphabet City Beer Co. and brews for various other New York City-based beer companies on site, including Bronx, Heartland, War Flag, and Yonkers as well as Clown Shoes out of Ipswich, Mass.
For such a far reaching company, it’s hard to believe the brewery is nestled in the quiet suburbia of Clifton Park.
Shmaltz originally got its start on the West Coast, where Cowan made his “Jewish celebration craft beer” brainchild in San Francisco in 1996. The first batches were brewed at Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, California.
“1996 was just a huge year for craft beer, there are so many of what you would consider giants that started then, like Stone Brewing in California and Dogfish Head and us, there were quite a few, it was just this magic year for brewing,” Egan explains.
Cowan soon brought Shmaltz to New York. When he got a loan to open a space of his own, he asked Richie Saunders, now head brewer, and other associates to join him in Brooklyn to no avail. They tossed around ideas of a space in Long Island and the Hudson Valley and settled on the Capital Region, closer to Saunders’ home in Glens Falls. After a decade of guest brewing at Olde Saratoga Brewing Company, Cowan landed a place of his own, creating classic and quirky brews in Fairchild Square for the past four years.
He and Saunders are always brainstorming the odd and the unconventional. “Better or worse, we don’t do test batches. We just go for it,” Cowan says. “It takes two to three weeks.” They released two Golden Anniversary Star Trek-themed ales in 2016, in celebration of the sci-fi hit’s 50 years, and announced another three-part line in February with the introduction of the Klingon Imperial Porter. The brewers aren’t afraid of unorthodox flavors either. The Pastrami Pils was made for Barcade in Brooklyn and is exclusive to the the bar and Shmaltz taproom.
“We take a lot of chances and make a lot of great stuff because of it. Time and again, we will have someone come in who says well I’m not a huge fan of that but I love these other 19 that you make. There’s not too many companies who hit the ball all the time. I’m proud to say we do,” Egan says.
A lot of the fun lies in the pun-packed names and dynamic art, by Matt Polacheck, of the labels. It’s hard to pick a favorite between the classic He’Brew: The Chosen Beer; Funky Jewbelation, a barrel aged blend released with different ingredients each year; Circum Session, the annual April Fool’s Day barrel aged sour and Immaculate Collaboration–a five year-and-counting collaborative brew between Shmaltz and the Catholic Cathedral Square Brewery in St. Louis.
The company is big on collaboration, charity and community involvement. The annual Reunion Ale is brewed in partnership with Terrapin Brewery of Athens, Ga. The proceeds are donated to multiple myeloma bone cancer research. Onsite, Shmaltz hosts Pints for a Cause events each month, sometimes biweekly. “We do it as often as possible,” Egan says. Every pint sold earns $1 and each beer flight $2 towards featured organizations like the American Diabetes Association or Cancer Society. The Women’s Day event donated proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
Intermingling with the happy hour crowd Wednesday night was the local weekly running club “The Chosen Run.” They had just gotten back from their three mile loop and settled around the tall, antique barrels of the taproom with a pint of their favorite Shmaltz pour–just $3 if you are a participating runner.
Last year, the brewery teamed up with Schenectady County Community College to start an regional educational program for up-and-coming brewers. A portion of proceeds from the Brewers Wanted Pale Ale, available at the brewery and local Price Chopper stores, go towards the program that supports the development of an Associate’s Degree in Brewing through SCCC. The brewing company has become a centerpiece to their community with a warm, welcoming atmosphere that begs you to stay awhile and enjoy some damn good beer.
Photos by Katie Cusack