Death of a Contract Brewer

The Chosen One has arrived.







After 16 years as one of contract brewing’s loudest cheerleaders,Shmaltz Brewing company, handcrafters of HE’BREW – The Chosen Beer® and Coney Island Craft Lagers®, is breaking with tradition and opening its own New York State production brewery. Located in Clifton Park, NY, 10 minutes north of Albany’s capital district, Shmaltz’s new home boasts a 50-barrel brewhouse with 20,000 barrels of annual capacity. With a $3.25 million dollar budget and countless hours of planning and preparation, what began as an improbable fantasy only one year ago, has blossomed into a nearly 20,000 square foot brewing reality.

Human Blockhead

Shmaltz Brewing was a bit of a mystery to me so I welcomed the chance to explore their beers and do some research. The first thing I had to figure out is the story behind their… err, odd, marketing. It was something that originally made me shy away from them, but after some investigation (including tastings) I began to “get it”. Wikipedia said, “Shmaltz is known for blurring beer styles and using puns, art, history, and pop culture in every aspect of their products.”

But first, to Human Blockhead… this is what Shmaltz has to say about it:

The Return of Coney Island Human Blockhead(TM)
Pound for pound, Coney Island Human Blockhead(TM) is a finely crafted professional. 8 specialty malts of barley, wheat, rye, and oats create an enormously developed body. Juggling 6 hop varieties from European Noble roots to American Pacific Northwest new school flavors balances this weighty task. Traditional proprietary Lager yeast shines true elegance on this innovative recipe for a complex demonstration of pure enjoyment. 10% alcohol nails it home.

For some reason I didn’t expect this beer to be as big as it is. Wow, it is a HUGE beer. Realizing their intent, I have no idea what style to put this in. I sampled this brew with a friend while watching the USA vs. Canada gold medal game in the 2010 winter Olympics. We had some spicy Kielbasa and cheese to go with this powerhouse beer and it was a good time (despite the USA loss – gg). We both described this beer as very sweet, but bittersweet. The hops even came across as more sweet than bitter. Certainly a sipping beer and very enjoyable.

Shmaltz has two divisions in their brew line… “Chosen Beers” marketed as He’brew and “Freak Beers” marketed as Coney Island Craft Lagers. The He’brew brand started on the west coast in 2006 and the Coney Island Lager brand started in 2008 on the east coast. The first Coney Island branded lager was released in collaboration with the arts organization Coney Island USA. A portion of the proceeds directly benefits Coney Island USA.

Coney Island Lagers are brewed and bottled in New York. The bottle I have in front of me was brewed in my backyard, Saratoga Springs at the Olde Saratoga Brewery which contract brews for several brewers. Coney Island Lagers are not the easiest thing to get, but they have a whole page dedicated to where you can drink, or buy, their beer. The Museum of Modern Art in New York serves only Coney Island Lagers in their sculpture garden.

The marketing is some real funny stuff; it is good to see that someone other than big boys can come up with some punny ads. You can also order your Freak Gear online.

So are all the Coney Island Craft Lagers a freak show of beer styles…? Human Blockhead was tasty enough that I’ll just have to find out and let you know. Does anyone recommend what I should try next? Coney Island Lager, Albino Python, Sword Swallower, Freaktoberfest or Mermaid Pilsner?

Originally developed by renowned magician and sideshow performer Melvin Burkhart, the “human blockhead” stunt remains a staple at the Coney Island sideshow to this day. With Burkhardt leaving after 25 years of performance in Coney Island, the act is kept alive by the current MC of the CI Sideshow, Donny Vomit. The sideshow runs from April – September, and since Donny joined in 2004, he has performed over 2,000 shows. He comments, “As a kid, I always thought it would be cool to have an action figure made after me, but having a kickass beer is a whole lot better. Drink my beer!!” Coney Island Human Blockhead(TM) pays delicious tribute to the wildly mustachioed MC and the legacy of this shocking act.