It is de rigeur to review some Christmas beers in December. But we need to start with a beer for another winter holiday, before I've missed all eight days!
Shmaltz Brewing Company, based in San Francisco, was started by Jeremy Cowan in 1996 with a unique idea for certified Kosher beer. I'm not going to pretend a few minutes on Google will make me an expert on whether the brewing process has anything that could make it treif, but I'm guessing the major thing is Rabbicinal supervision.
Launched with a tagline of "The Chosen Beer," and currently contract-brewed by Olde Saratoga in New York, Shmaltz He'brew brand has made fans for boths its beer and the bit of shtick in its marketing. It was named "Best American Craft Beer" and overall "Best in Show" by Beverage World magazine for 2010. And since 2004, it has marked each anniversary with a special release, timed for Hanukkah, called Jewbelation. This first Jewbelation was for its eighth anniversay, and was made with eight malts and eight hop varieties, and sold at 8% abv. Each year they upped the malt and hop count and alcohol points. 2009 saw their 13th anniversary beer, named, of course, Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah.
This year's 14th anniversary Jewbelation is a barley wine, packaged like the others in a 22 oz. bomber bottle, at 14% alcohol. In addition, the beer is available in a gift box with all the previous vintages in a gift pack of 12 oz. bottles, plus a "Vertical" blended from all the vintages. The box includes glassware, a set of Chanukah candles, plus instructions for making a beer menorah from the bottles.
I missed the chance to pick up the gift box, but I saw the bomber of Fourteen on sale for $5, I had to snatch it up. Then I had to open it up. And here's what I found:
A solid black stout body under a brown layer of foam. The smell has some alcohol to it, but it's kind of light for a barley wine. But maybe it was my choice of the small snifter I poured this into. Re-pouring after the first sip offers an entertaining display of small brown bubbles forming and trying to rise to the top against the thick body. And yes, it is kind of thick. Very malty, with a thread of hop bitterness trying to settle in against the nearly syrupy texture. But this is a really nice malty brew. The website lists chocolate and other stout malts among its 14 malts used, but the blackness does not come with any stout bitterness. Other interesting grains include oatmeal, rye, spelt and quinoa. Hops are a mix of English, German nobles and strong American varieties, all blended for a smooth complementary bitterness. Call this one a Black IPA that detoured into "black barley wine" territory. As a new barley wine, it still shows a bit of roughness that would smooth down in a few years. Even heartier than my beloved Bigfoot. Next time I'm at the store, I may have to get a few more of these to lay down and start looking up when Hanukkah ends each year. L'Chaim indeed! I rate this 38 out of 50.
Beer fans will also want to check out Shmaltz' second brand, Coney Island. This line of lagers takes its beer names from attractions at the historic amusement park, like Sword Swallower, Albino Python, Human Blockhead, and their Oktoberfest beer, Freaktoberfest.