After the sale of his five-year-old brewery down in Clifton Park this past summer, Jeremy Cowan, owner of Shmaltz Brewing Company, is bringing his delicious, Hebrew-inspired craft beers to the heart of Saratoga Springs. Cowan, alongside Tommy Nicchi, owner of The Comedy Works, will transform what is currently The Newberry Music Hall into a Shmaltz tasting room and entertainment venue. And it won’t be just Shamltz brews such as He’brew Beer on tap; the tasting room will also serve Cowan’s other beer brands, including Alphabet City Brewing Company and 518 Craft, a local brand brewed with Upstate malts and hops.
All of Cowan’s beers (plus some) will be available at the new tasting room when it opens in late January, just in time for Saratoga Chowderfest and the brewery’s own winter IPA Fest. Expect everything that made the Clifton Park brewery such a fun and communal hangout: a running club, beer tastings and festivals, plus club meetings and trivia nights. Cowan and Nicchi plan to add some new programming and events such as fundraisers, movie nights and even Sunday brunch. “It’s pretty exciting that this location is dead center in the middle of Broadway,” says Cowan. “We’ve got incredible neighbors, some of whom we already sell beer to including Boca, Pig N’ Whistle and Cantina.”
Cowan is a bit of a beer-brewing whiz. Over the years, he’s made a name for himself doing semi-nomadic contract-brewing and growing a number of popular craft brands. In 1996, he founded his Jewish-themed Shmaltz Brewing Company in his hometown of San Francisco. “It started for the holidays as kind of an experiment to see if I could make the first Hanukkah beer ever,” says Cowan. “And it worked out a little bit, just enough to keep me obsessed.” (If you’re wondering what defines a “Hanukkah beer,” that would be eight different malts, eight hops, and eight percent alcohol, all in honor of the eight days of Hanukkah, of course). Cowan spent the first year the company was in business delivering the beer from the back of his grandmother’s Volvo. However, all that hustle paid off. Within a few years, the West Coast-based Shmaltz had distribution facilities as far away as Chicago, Brooklyn and New York.
In 2003, Cowan relocated to Brooklyn and moved all Shmaltz production to Saratoga Springs, brewing out of what used to be the Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. on Excelsior Avenue. “I’d been to Saratoga before, and it seemed like a great location to distribute more to New York, Boston and Montreal,” Cowan says. While down in Brooklyn, he also created Coney Island Craft Lager (now the full-scale Coney Island Brewery), an offshoot of Shmaltz Brewing, which in 2013 he sold to The Boston Beer Company (which owns Samuel Adams). Cowan took the money from his deal with The Boston Beer Company and, that same year, opened up a $3 million brewing facility in Clifton Park. Five years later (in May of 2018) he sold that too, this time to the Queens-based SingleCut Beersmiths. “We expanded almost four times the production in five years,” says Cowan, but he admits he wanted to focus more on brand building than managing the 30,000-barrel facility.
The sale of the Clifton Park brewery is what prompted Cowan to return to his roots of going business-to-business to pitch his beer brands, and what caused him to step into The Comedy Works one day and meet its owner, Nicchi. “We really hit it off,” says Cowan. “He was looking for a new project to install in the front of his comedy club on Broadway, and I was looking for some opportunities to expand our retail sales.” The two have already opened one tasting room, 518 Craft and Shmaltz Shop, in Downtown Troy. But Cowan and Nicchi both wanted to use the more spacious Newberry Music Hall to offer the kinds of events that Shmaltz hosted for years in Clifton Park. Plus, Cowan thinks there’s just something special about The Comedy Works and Newberry Music Hall. “Tommy’s place has an incredible history in Saratoga,” he says. “Almost anybody who’s been to Saratoga over the years or who grew up here has been to the Newberry.”
And, come January, Saratogians will get the chance to experience something new in that historic location: The Shmaltz Tasting Room.