Shmaltz Brewing was born in a San Francisco apartment in 1996; fourteen years later, San Francisco Business Times included Shmaltz in its "Top 20 Fastest Growing Bay Area Companies." How does something launched as a Hanukkah experiment become an award-winning bicoastal brewery? Chutzpah maybe, though Shmaltz has certainly done a fine job of adapting to trends in craft brewing. Its annual Jewbelation brew has long been a mainstay for fans of strong ales, and the brewery's recent barrel-aging projects have met with acclaim, including a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for Lenny's R.I.P.A. on Rye.
Now, Shmaltz founder Jeremy Cowan is hoping he's found a way to distill the brewery's success ― literally. Brace yourself for Shmaltz Liquor, entering the Bay Area spirits market as soon as the barrels say they're ready.
Shmaltz has paired up with Alameda's St. George Spirits to create products distilled from the brewery's beers. The partnership is a logical match, since ― generally speaking ― whiskey is a sort of distilled beer. While whiskey is generally born from a hop-less "wash," these spirits will benefit from a bold base of Shmaltz brew, hops and all. As distillation itself is the concentration of a base product, it stands to reason that the better the beer, the better the distillate.
At this stage, three liquors are in development. A blend of beers from the Jewbelation series has been distilled and will soon find its home in a Buffalo Trace bourbon barrel. Lenny's R.I.P.A. is becoming an un-aged (aka white dog) whiskey with possible additional hopping, and a Human Blockhead Lager distillate is destined for newer, lightly charred barrels.
SFoodie has had the pleasure of tasting initial batches of these spirits, which hadn't yet been diluted down to the appropriate proof for sale. These early previews clocked in around 80 percent ABV (file under: things that make you go "oy!") and featured a graham-cracker aroma with flavors of roasty malt, floral hops, and burnt wood. After dilution, barrel time, and finishing touches, this "chosen" liquor shows signs of pleasing aficionados of beer and spirits alike. Now if only Manischewitz would enter the brandy market...