Sombreros, kegs, and teddy bears surround the gleaming Hanukkah lights, on display in a album on Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Facebook page. But what distinguish these holiday scenes are not accessories but rather the very menorahs themselves — they’re made out of beer bottles. They are all entries in Shmaltz’s annual Beer Bottle Menorah Contest, an online holiday contest that is now in its third year.
A beer bottle menorah is exactly what it sounds like: eight brewskis lined in a row, with Hanukkah candles sticking out of them. The problem is how to get those candles to stay put. Creative solutions include placing playing cards, tin foil, upturned bottle caps, and even small dreidels on the top of the beer bottle — all in order to hold that candle in place. The guidelines for last year’s contest offer little help: “We realize the traditional candles still will not fit in the top of the bottles, but we are a handy people from tent dwellers to Jewish carpenters to craft brewers. Behold! A second chance to prove yourselves.” They suggest stuffing a matzo ball in the nape, as a way of holding the candle in place.
With dancing rabbis, clowns, and unicorns adorning their bottles, and names like Genesis Ale and Funky Jewbelation, Shmaltz Brewing Company’s He’Brew beer commands the attention of the liquor store browser — myself included.
The little-engine-that-could brewing company has made big waves over the past 16 years. Starting as an inside joke between Southern Californian friends, the brewing company, which celebrates “delicious beer and delicious shtick,” now has products on the shelves of 31 states. And its beer, brewed in Saratoga Springs, has won worldwide acclaim.
And so, I gathered some fellow beer connoisseurs and foodies in order to judge how good this He’brew beer actually was. Lucky for us, Shmaltz’s Holiday Gift Pack just hit store shelves, and includes eight diverse varieties of their wildly different craft brews.
The results? Delight. These brews are fun, distinctive, flavorful, clever and generally enjoyable to drink. The packs are expensive, from $25 to $30 depending on the store, but worth it. And so, with the opinions and insights of my overly opinionated sensitively-beer-tongued-friends, I provide you with a guide for enjoying each beer to its fullest flavor potential.