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With Shmaltz

Hay Merchant's first-ever beer dinner throws caution and decorum out the window

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Hay Merchant
The Hay Merchant Photo by Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
Hay Merchant, first beer dinner, Schmaltz brewing, November 2012, Freaktoberfest
Enjoying Freaktoberfest  Photo by Caroline Gallay
Hay Merchant, first beer dinner, Schmaltz brewing, November 2012, menu, He'Brew Reunion
He'Brew Reunion with the beer dinner menu Photo by Caroline Gallay
Hay Merchant
Hay Merchant, first beer dinner, Schmaltz brewing, November 2012, Freaktoberfest
Hay Merchant, first beer dinner, Schmaltz brewing, November 2012, menu, He'Brew Reunion

"Don't pass out, passover." Such is the motto of Shmaltz Brewing, a now 16-year-old label based in San Francisco and, possibly more notably, Hay Merchant's brewer of choice for its very first in-house beer dinner. 

Although Hay Merchant has collaborated with Underbelly to host beer pairings, the Shmaltz dinner was the first event helmed by Hay Merchant alone and drew some three dozen craft beer enthusiasts — and more than a few Texans fans who chose microbrews over television. Luckily, the crowd next door (led by Underbelly chef Chris Shepherd, who had the night off) was enthusiastic enough for those of us in the private dining room to deduce how our boys were doing.

 Shmaltz brews its beers one gallon at a time on a contract basis in a 175-square-foot brewery (one of the country's smallest before it was recently doused by Sandy).  

The five-course affair, curated by Hay Merchant's resident beer guru Kevin Floyd and chef Antoine Ware, presented small-batch brews from both sides of Shmaltz's bicoastal portfolio: He'Brew (the chosen beer) and Coney Island craft lagers, inspired by the last remaining freak show in America. Shmaltz owner (and author) Jeremy Cowan was on-hand for introductions, even sampling some brews for the first time. 

Shmaltz brews its beers one gallon at a time on a contract basis in a 175-square-foot brewery (one of the country's smallest before it was recently doused by Sandy). With pithy taglines and characteristic Jewish humor, Cowan and his staff have brewed some of the most celebrated brews around — including one U.S. Beer Tasting Championship Grand Champion, also on the menu Sunday night. And with names like Sword Swallower, Human Blockhead and Jewbelation, it's hard not to have fun. 

Instead of following the usual beer dinner track of light to heavy brews, Floyd threw caution — or at least reservation — out the window and followed a "peak" mid-meal, with an 8-percent brown ale, with a 16-percent American strong ale at the fourth course. The evening was not for amateurs. 

Although the 16-percent He'Brew Jewbelation "Sweet 16" was a literal high-point, brewed to honor Shmaltz's 16th year with 16 malts and 16 types of hops, a clear winner for me was the He'Brew Reunion, a heady, mole-reminiscent brew with cocoa nibs, vanilla, cinnamon and notes of coffee. Reunion is made from the same complex brown ale base each year with a different spice profile — this year's iteration a collaboration with Athen's Terrapin Beer Co. Many of the featured brews are on tap at Hay Merchant, and I suggest you get you some.   

It was the start of a big week for Hay Merchant. Next up is a full week of special keg tappings, culminating in a Real Ale total cask engine takeover on Friday — Hay Merchant's first cask coup. All five casks will be pouring Real Ale: Katz Coffee Porter 2012, 4-Squared, Brewers Cut Signature Series Hop, Lost Gold IPA and 15th Anniversary Russian Imperial Stout.

For a full schedule of Hay Merchant's Houston Beer Week tappings, click here.

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