The Chosen Beer

He-Brew has a microbrewery bite and a hip Jewish identity

By Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

One day, a tall, youthful Stanford grad named Jeremy Cowan decidedthat it was time to chuck his career in computers and create the verything human society lacked most: a Jewish beer.

The idea flashed into his head during a bull session with somefriends: a Jewish beer…beer is brewed…He-Brew…shazam.

Cowan played around with some recipes, using a local microbreweryto refine his concoction. He called it “He-Brew, The Chosen Beer.” Heincorporated as the Shmaltz Enterprises. His friends loved the idea.His first run sold out. Cowan got serious.

Soon, the laid-back 32-year-old son of a Beverly Hills High Schoolteacher had hammered out a contract brewing arrangement with theesteemed Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, Calif. Hespent months refining recipes (which was fun) and going throughlicensing hassles (which was no fun). To attain kosher certification,he brought up Los Angeles’ Rabbi Binyomin Lisbon to Boonville, wherethe ponytailed brewmeister and the devout rabbi got along famously.Since beer manufacturing doesn’t involve a lot of lard or lobster,Lisbon’s main concern was making sure that the cleaning products werein adherence to Orthodox kosher standards.

The first product in the He-Brew line, Genesis Ale, is nowavailable in stores. Packaged in 22-ounce bottles, the beer is indeedcrisp and light, with a reassuring you-know-it’s-a-microbrew bite andalmost no aftertaste. Jews drink while they eat, figured Cowan, andhe didn’t want the beer to ruin the taste of the varnishkes tofollow.

Each bottle bears the Chagall-ian label, designed by Cowan’sartist girlfriend. It’s lively enough, though the dancing Chassidhoisting brewskies over drawings of the Golden Gate Bridge and theWestern Wall could double, were this 1930s Berlin, as a street posterdecrying world Jewish domination.

That, of course, is not Cowan’s aim. He-Brew, he says, is “acelebration of the culture of schtick.” The label’s copy makes thisclear enough — “Exile Never Tasted So Good” and “Don’t Pass Out,Passover” — as does Cowan’s marketing and his personality. He is oneof us way-post-Holocaust Jews who sees all things Jewish as cool andenriching. San Francisco, after all, is the birthplace of Davkamagazine, Noah’s Bagels and Tikkun — a city where Jewish hip ismainstreamed. “Twenty years ago, you could never have called a beerHe-Brew,” he says. “But we’re approaching Jewish identity in aninteresting way. I’m Jewish and it’s great and it’s fine.”

Thus, Cowan talks of marketing as “building community.” He sent abottle to Steven Spielberg and got back a short thank you — “Stevengot a kick out of it.” He’s supplied kegs to Chabad parties, donatedbeer to his local Jewish community center, and has pledged,Ben-and-Jerry-like, to give 10 percent of his profits to charity.It’s marketing as menschlekeit, and, so far, it seems to be working.The beer is selling briskly — at Wally’s Liquors on WestwoodBoulevard, customers bought out the entire first order in days.

Cowan is looking forward to developing a brew pub or piggybackingwith a deli. As Cowan says, “The schtickateria is everywhere.”

For more information, call (415) 648-HEBREW or

Restaurant Review

A Restaurant at Midlife

What happens to Jews at midlife and beyond? That’s the cover storyof this issue, and, fittingly, one answer can be found at the CenturyCity Marketplace. In May 1994, just as Steven Spielberg and JeffreyKatzenberg were on their slippery slope toward 50 (Spielberg slipsnext month), they went Dutch on a restaurant. Dive! opened to greatfanfare — much of it deserved. A 1990s take on the theme restaurant,it features an undersea, submarine atmosphere, with screens full offish, state-of-the-art sound, a simulated dive sequence, basicallyeverything but the popping rivets from “Das Boot.” Sure, kids loveit, but will you?

The answer is, probably. If you can stomach the commotion — andwhy would you go there unless you wanted a little commotion — you’llfind plenty of good stuff to eat. (Caveat to our kosher readers:Dive! is not kosher.) The restaurant, operated by the LevyRestaurants, does do justice to Spielberg’s goal of creating a funplace where he could take the kids and still eat well. According to aDive! publicist, he still dines there weekly or so with his brood.The French fries are large, fresh and filling, though none of thearray of sauces they’re served with compares with a squeeze of Heinz.Submarine sandwiches with portobello mushrooms and Romano cheese arewarm and meaty. The specialties, such as charbroiled Atlantic salmon,have a smoky, oven-roasted edge. You can go way wrong — the carrotchip appetizer looked and tasted like burned wood shavings — but,mostly, the food, especially the subs, salads and specialties, couldtake the edge off anyone’s midlife crisis.

For hours and reservations, call (310) 788-DIVE. — R.E.

Books for Cooks

The Sephardic Connection

In the recently published “Latin American Cooking Across theU.S.A.” (Knopf, $27.50), authors Himilce Novas and Rosemary Silvabring us some of the country’s best Latin American home cooks, alongwith their recipes and stories. It’s a sensuous, endlessly temptingjourney, taking us from Crispy Bacalao Cakes with Criollo Gaspacho toRum-Soaked Sponge Cake. Along the way are hints of the feedback loopthat Jews entered into with cuisines everywhere.

In Latin American cooking, as in Eastern European cooking, Jewishcustoms and foods influenced native dishes, and native dishesinformed Jewish cooking. Look at Eva Asher, who grew up in ElSalvador, the daughter of a Jewish mother and Romanian father. Whenthe family ran out of shipped-in matzo meal on Passover, theyimprovised desserts by recreating a favorite Salvadoran confection ofshredded coconut atop a thin meringue layer.

Or take the Sopa de Habicas, a white bean soup thatLorraine Rosas said came to America via Jews in Spain and theCaribbean. Like many of the recipes in the book, it’s naturallykosher and echoes a taste of Sepharad in America. — R.E.

White Bean Soup

(from “Latin American Cooking Across the U.S.A.”)

1 cup dried white beans, such as Great Northern, navy or canellinibeans, rinsed

2 quarts water

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium Spanish onions, peeled and minced

1 large-clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 pound meaty beef short ribs, trimmed of fat

1/2 cup tomato sauce

2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1) Put the beans and water in a large soup pot, and bring to aboil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for one hour.

2) Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.Sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are limp — about8 minutes.

3) Push the onions aside and add the short ribs. Brown on bothsides, about 4 minutes per side, stirring the onions so that they donot burn.

4) Add the onions and ribs, the tomato sauce, tomatoes, tarragon,and salt and pepper to the beans. Bring to a boil over medium-highheat, then lower the heat and simmer covered, for one hour.

5) With a slotted spoon, scoop up about 1 cup of the beans andpuree them in a food processor or electric blender. Stir the pureeinto the soup.

6) Now remove the short ribs and trim the beef from the bones.Discard the bones and cut the meat into 1-inch pieces and