It’s all kosher with this delightful brew

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In the beginning, Schmaltz Brewing’s Jeremy Cowan had a schticky idea for a beer: He’Brew, the chosen beer.

It was, he acknowledges today, a bit of inside joke – a kosher beer made for Jews, who aren’t generally regarded as the world’s biggest beer-drinkers.

Cowan’s first creation was Genesis Ale, an amber ale.

Genesis was followed by a brown ale called Messiah Bold, “the beer you’ve been waiting for. “

Both were decent beers. Drinkable, but hardly biblical in proportion. To me, the flavor just didn’t live up to the cute hype. (“Don’t pass out, Passover! “)

Then came Jewbelation 5766.

Finally, Hanukkah not only has its own beer, it has one of the best holiday ales – Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, whatever – that you’ll find at your local beer store.

This is not a mere marketing gimmick. Jewbelation 5766, named after the Hebrew calendar, is a massive, seriously made beer. Brewed to celebrate Schmaltz’s ninth anniversary, the batch – cooked up by Olde Saratoga Brewing in New York – contained 9,000 pounds of malt and nine hop varieties.

As soon as it showed up in stores, before Halloween, it began turning heads, not an easy task up against so many other, extraordinary holiday beers.

Celebrator, the West Coast beer-trade paper, gave it a top rating of five stars.

The Pacific Brew News named it best of show in a blind-tasting of more than 30 wintertime beers, ahead of the likes of Anderson Valley Winter Solstice and near-mythic Alaskan Smoked Porter. “I think it is safe to say this was a surprise for most of us,” the newspaper acknowledged. “But this beer had it all. “

Even the prickly beer-raters at BeerAdvocate.com have been unanimous in giving it the thumbs-up.

“It’s fantastic,” Cowan told me in a phone conversation while on a cross-country tour to promote his beer. “This kind of response is exactly the goal I had in mind with He’brew. People are starting to take the beer really seriously. “

Which, admittedly, is a bit difficult when you plow through all its hilarious Jewish hype (“The first ever extreme high holiday beer”) and a wordy press package that attempts to explain why the number 9 is such an important digit in Hebrew life (it’s the age when Gene Simmons, of Kiss, first moved to New York).

Enough! How’s this stuff taste?

Dark brown with a tan head, Jewbelation 5766 explodes with a malty aroma right out of the bottle. The hops don’t jump out of the glass, but instead mellow that sweet flavor and disguise its very powerful kick.

OK, maybe I should have read more closely, but that big No. 9 on the label also refers to the alcohol percentage. When I fell to my knees after polishing off a 22-ounce bomber solo, it wasn’t out of religious devotion.

Cowan, ever the schtickmeister, can’t help but quip: “This Hanukkah, the candles won’t be the only thing getting lit. “

L’chaim!

FYI, most beer is regarded as kosher because its raw ingredients (barley, hops, water) do not violate the Kashrut, or Jewish dietary laws. The only concerns arise in beers with flavoring additives or specialty yeasts, like those used in barleywine.

The Chicago Rabbinical Council says all non-flavored U.S. beers, including dark beer, are kosher.

If you’re worried, several beers in addition to He’Brew are certified as kosher, including: Layla Dirty Blonde Lager, made in Israel, certified by the chief rabbinate of Ashkelon; Coors, Miller, Redhook and Negra Modelo.

And, of course, there’s always Manischewitz.

Beer radar

If weekly installments of Joe Sixpack haven’t been enough to keep you up to date with the Philadelphia beer scene, look for beer historian Rich Wagner’s copiously compiled “Craft Brewing in Philadelphia, 1985-2005. ” It’s 20 years of beer lit on a CD for $20, plus tax and handling. Info at his Web site, http://pabreweryhistorians.tripod.com.

Anheuser-Busch continues to develop edgier-flavored beers. Following its Halloween release of Jack’s Pumpkin Spice, A-B is pouring Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale, brewed with dark-roasted caramel malts and aged in toasted bourbon oak casks with whole Madagascar vanilla beans. And these are the same people who make Bud Light?

This week’s column was written with a bottle of Middle Ages Wailing Wench. 

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