A look at the kosher craft He’brew beers and a review of the Loch Chaim, Isle of Arran 13 year old Single Malt Whisky.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week March 7, 2012
Admittedly this is a departure from our usual focus on wine, but with Purim here and Pesach approaching we’ve had levity on the cards and chametz (leavened food) on the brain. Made with yeast and grains, beer, like bread or whisky, is chametz gamur (pure chametz), the ultimate forbidden food on Pesach. So finding some tasty, Jewish brewed beer for a pre-Pesach indulgence is a real treat. Made by aptly named Shmaltz Brewing Company, the kosher He’brew line of beers fits the bill perfectly.
Established in 1996 by Jeremy Cowan who squeezed pomegranates to create an ale that he sold out of the trunk of his grandmother’s Volvo, the Schmaltz Brewing Company is one of the most widely recognized and rapidly growing US craft brewing companies. He claims that the whole idea began as a result of a volleyball game when he decided that his overwhelmingly Jewish team needed its own beer. Appropriately, among his first commercial clients was a Berkeley falafel place called “Holy Land Restaurant” to whom he sold his “Genesis Ale.”
Cowan’s love for language and his deep commitment to his heritage is embodied both in his marketing and in the creatively irreverent names and labels he uses. The bottles declare He’brew as the “Chosen Beer” and are adorned with gaudy artwork, groan-worthy puns and snippets of Torah. His second beer was a nut brown ale he called “Messiah” so as to “start at the beginning and finish at the end.” Cowan’s current portfolio includes the 15th anniversary edition of “Jewbelation,” the barrel-aged “Genesis 15:15” and a beer created as a tribute to the late comedian Lenny Bruce called “Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A.” They also make a seasonal ale called “Rejewevenator” whose formula has included figs, dates and most recently, Concord grapes. A Hanukkah gift pack included beer, candles and instructions on how to build a beer Menorah.
Marketing aside, Cowan’s real skill is reflected in the quality within the bottles. These are terrifically flavorful beers with the balance and depth that embody the US craft beer movement. Our latest favorite is the barrel aged He’brew Vertical Jewbelation, a blend of the previous seven anniversary Jewbelation recipes aged in Sazarac rye whiskey barrels. Simply delicious.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d stick with this schmaltzy pre-Pesach indulgence theme and sample some Loch Chaim labeled single cask, single malt Scotch whisky. The jokey name and label is courtesy of Alan Shayne president of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA), of which we are both members, and also head of Spirit Imports, Inc., which imports not just the SMWSA bottling, which are only available to members, but also such brands as Douglas Laing and Co. Ltd., The Old Malt Cask, The Premier Barrel, Big Peat, The Double Barrel, McGibbons Provenance, and, of course, Loch Chaim.
As Alan once explained it, the concept developed out of a trip to The Glenlivet Distillery a few years back. Alan and his wife, Maddie, and Beth Rush, SMWSA’s director of member services, and her husband Joel, had all gone together to Scotland as part of the “The Glenlivet Gathering” event with about 150 other Americans. “It was a fantastic experience,” Alan recalls. “After a wonderful dinner and partying the evening away with the group at the distillery, we returned to our hotels via chartered bus. All were singing Scottish tunes, and at the end of the ‘Bonnie bonnie shores of Loch Lomond,’ Joel and I simultaneously substituted Loch Chaim for Loch Lomond. A neon light went off in my head reading ‘Kosher Malt Whisky.'”
So once Alan returned to Florida, he contacted one of his whisky suppliers The Glen Aden Distilling Company, Ltd., who mostly produce bulk blended whiskies. Importantly for Alan, though, the two principles of this supplier– masterblenders Robert Mendelsohn and David Hallgarten-are both Orthodox Jews. They sent cask samples of malt whiskies that had matured exclusively in 100% ex-Bourbon American Oak casks-although is not himself kashrus observant, he knows whisky and so knows the score. He then designed the label and sought guidance from Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, “Scotland’s only Scottish born rabbi and a malt enthusiast.” Rabbi Jacobs was born in Scotland, attended yeshivas in Manchester and the US, received his semichah from Yeshivah Toras Emes in Monsey, and is now affiliated with Lubavitch in Glasgow; he also developed and had certified an official Jewish tartan (www.jewishtartan.com).
Alan decided to make Loch Chaim a single, cask single malt brand-meaning that each release represents one single barrel, making each a very limited edition. As the label puts it, Loch Chaim is “A Heavenly Inspired Selection of Single Cask, Single Malt Scotch Whisky.”
The initial 2008 release was of 5 casks which he launched at the SMWSA’s annual Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza in Washington DC. As Alan put it, “it was the hit of the evening and many of the local retailers in attendance immediately put in orders.” As of now the primary supplier in the DC area is Potomac Wines and Spirits in Georgetown (www.potomacwines.com).
Here then is the Loch Chaim, Isle of Arran, 1996, 13 Year Old Single Cask, Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43% ABV; 1 of 300 bottles; $65): This smooth, easy drinking dram offers notes of vanilla, toasted oak, something vaguely herbal and flowery, and with mocha to dark chocolate presence, followed on with flavors of candied ginger, nutmeg, bay leaf, pear, brown sugar and something approaching anise. The finish is satisfyingly long and white peppery, with a hint of French vanilla. L’Chaim with Loch Chaim!