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10 Best Holiday Beer Buys For 2011

8. HE'Brew Jewbilation 15
Style: American strong ale
Back in 1996, Jeremy Cowan thought he would get some laughs by making the country's only Jewish celebration beer. He brewed 100 cases of Genesis Ale and delivered it around Northern California just in time for Hanukkah.

Fifteen years later, his Shmaltz Brewing and its Saratoga, N.Y.-brewed HE'Brew beer has outposts in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago, a 10-person staff, $2 million in annual business and a holiday gift pack stuffed with beers such as the Lenny Bruce tribute Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A., Origin Pomegranate Ale (ordinarily available only in 22-ounce bottles), Messiah Bold, its new Hop Manna IPA, a free glass, Hanukkah candles and instructions on how to make a beer bottle menorah. In case his sincerity about the brewery's holiday offerings was in doubt, Cowan has had all of Shmaltz's ingredients and materials, brewing process and brewery conditions certified kosher by Kosher Supervision of America and Orthodox Union.

"It's a really cool way for both the Jewish community and the beer geek community to be able to sample the breadth of what we're up to on the HE'Brew side of Shmaltz Brewing," says Cowan, whose company also makes the Coney Island Craft Lagers line of beers. "Kosher certification certainly hasn't had huge demand in the beer market, but I thought it would be important to get all of our beers kosher-certified so that all the community would be conscious of the fact that they could bring the beers to celebrations, give them as presents and enjoy the beers in their homes or in restaurants."

The centerpiece of the package, though, is the high-powered Jewbelation 15. Brewed in various potencies since HE'Brew's eighth anniversary, Jewbelation 15 is so named because of the 15 malts and 15 hops in its formula and its 15% ABV. Like its predecessors 8 through 14 and the Vertical Jewbelation rye-barrel-aged mix of all eight of those varieties, Jewbelation is a bitter, potent brew best enjoyed as slowly and steadily as Shmaltz's fan base was built. That pace and that nonregional niche approach has made HE'Brew not only a holiday favorite among fans, but a still-burgeoning success in the craft-beer sector.

"Originally I knew I would never sell enough beer in one area to run the business, and that's exactly what happened," Cowan says. "It wasn't until I expanded to 20 markets around the country that had a Jewish community that I reached those folks and started to break even, but what really happened is that my strange little business model of selling a little beer in a lot of places ended up being the perfect model as craft beer exploded over the last five years."
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