We call it Gift-mageddon: Our older daughter’s birthday this year fell on the first full day of Hanukkah, which set off a string of events that neither my wife nor I could ever have predicted. It all started a month earlier, in November, when little Sophie realized that the two holiest days on her calendar would occur on exactly the same date. I remember the moment with shimmering clarity: She was sitting on the couch, utterly engrossed in her seventh viewing of the day of the animated movie Mr. Peabody & Sherman—although I’m not quite sure how to count viewings anymore, since she and her younger sister tend to watch movies on the television while simultaneously screening the same one on my wife’s iPad, which they pilfer when no one is looking, and, inexplicably enough, they tend not to watch the same scenes on the two devices in any sort of sync; rather, they have two entirely different sections of movie going at once, so that the overlay is more like the visual equivalent of those old pieces of polyphonic music from the early Renaissance: anyone who says that technology isn’t re-wiring the brains of our youngest citizens has never seen a simultaneous viewing session like this in action, which the kids handle just fine but which would send someone of my advanced years (and I’m not yet even 40!) into a padded room replete with a drool cup and high-test sedatives—when she snapped her head in the direction of the kitchen, where I was just then preparing dinner and my wife was working on a house-purchase contract (she’s a realtor), and yelled over to us, with absolutely no preamble, “Guys guys guys! Did you know that my birthday this year is on the same day as the start of Hanukkah?” The mix of wonder and joy and pure undiluted enthusiasm in her eyes was nothing short of stunning, like she had just seen proof that the Tooth Fairy actually exists, but, you know, even better. “That means that while all the other Jewish kids will get just eight presents, I’ll get nine! Or even more than nine, because Nana and Zay and Mimi and Poppy [her grandparents] and all of the cousins will have to get me gifts, too!” At which point she leapt up from the couch, did her best ballerina-twirl dance-sashay-and-pose, which looked like some sort of hybrid move between what she’d seen Angelina Ballerina do on her eponymous cartoons and what I’d terrifying caught a glimpse of while flipping through the channels one night a few years ago and happened upon the morally reprehensible Toddlers and Tiaras, just during a scene where this sad-eyed, high-haired automaton of a child shimmied across the stage and twirled for the desperate judges in their cheap tuxes sewn from way too much fabric and seriously egregious shoulder pads and barely-containing-their-insecurities parents off to the side. “That means,” Sophie concluded, “like, a million presents this year!!!”
We’ve been able to avoid hitting the million-presents mark, thankfully, and many of the ones we’ve given her have been of the sneakily educational variety, non-electronic and blissfully old-school gifts like the gorgeous wooden toys from the Melissa & Doug company, or books that will inspire her to continue down the path toward becoming a reader—things like that. But with gifts from both of our families, for both her fifth birthday and for Hanukkah (just try telling a five-year-old that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days of the year; you’ll be met with a look of bemusement and sad pity at your oh-so-incorrect misapprehension, followed by the legitimate argument that, sure, the High Holy Days are nice and all, but without presents, how important can they really be?), combined with the constant IV-style drip of sugar from the chocolate-coin bags of Hanukkah gelt, which, as far as I can tell, contain as much chocolate as a scoop of vanilla ice cream and as much sugar as a pallet of cotton candy, and you have the stage set for what amounts to basically an entire month of fructose- and consumerism-induced madness. And our house isn’t that big, certainly not large enough for me to comfortably find a corner of it and hide, unnoticed and undiscovered, slowly rocking back and forth and taking occasional pulls from a bottle of whiskey until the final candle on the menorah goes out, sending its valedictory wisps of smoke up to symbolically mark then end of the holiday and the hoped-for return of what sanity I once had.
So what’s a man to do to survive such dire straits?
Why, drink beer, of course.
So I say this: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Shmaltz Brewing Company.
Because not long before the craziness began, I received my press samples of three of the latest releases from the geniuses up in Clifton Park, New York. I say geniuses not just because of their beer-brewing prowess (which is certainly formidable), but also because of their marketing acumen and copy-writing skills. (Next time you’re at the store, pick up a bottle of He’brew “The Chosen Beer” and read the description on the label—it’s more often than not laugh-out-loud funny and brilliantly written. As a scribbler, I read it at my own peril: It makes me feel professionally threatened, which, I know, is more a testament to my own writerly insecurities than anything else, but still.)
And here’s the thing about beer samples, and how they differ from their wine-sample counterparts: You have to finish the entire brew right then and there, lest it go flat. With wine, you typically pour a couple-ounce tasting portion, write the note, and then set it aside. Maybe it’ll accompany dinner that night and you’ll get to see how it interacts with food, in case you want to write pairing suggestions into your tasting note. Some wine writers pump their bottles with devices like the VacuVin. Others hit them with some sort of inert gas to stave off oxidation. I know a few who simply re-cork them and put them in the fridge overnight. The lucky ones, those with access to the amazing Coravin, simply draw out the few ounces they need and lay the rest of the bottle down back in the cellar or wine fridge, the better to see how it will age and change. Most of us—the responsible ones, at least—revisit the wine over the course of a few days to see how it’s evolving once it’s been opened. It’s a fascinating process, and one that allows you to understand how a given wine might shift with time and oxygen. But beer, well, you just have to drink that bottle in its entirety or—the horror! the horror!—take a tasting pour and then dump the rest down the drain. Which to me seems like the worst sort of alcohol abuse I can imagine, and one that runs wholly counter to the entire philosophical scaffolding upon which I’ve constructed my life.
So I drank the beer—having taken full tasting notes first, of course—and I can honestly say this: It got me through a few deeply trying days and dark nights of the soul as we approached gift-mageddon. So: Is it really “the chosen beer?” Maybe. Possibly. But one thing’s for sure: This Jew is more than happy to choose it.
Here are my notes:
Shmaltz Brewing Company "He’Brew The Chosen Beer" Jewbelation 19 (19th Anniversary Ale)
Beautiful chocolate color with hints of molasses. On the nose, this shows roasting coffee and cacao beans, chocolate milk, raisins, plums, and a beautiful resiny note. Lush and smooth and velvety, like The Lady’s Man in all his glory. On the palate, this boasts flavors of black licorice, plum cake, spice, toasted pumpernickel bread, and a beautifully balanced bitterness alongside the sweet roasty chocolate and coffee, as well as slightly smoky malts. Effusive, fun and serious all at once.
Shmaltz Brewing Company "He’Brew The Chosen Beer" Death of a Contract Brewer Black IPA
Aromas of strong coffee and grounds, roasted cacao, a hint of smoke and toast: Rich and deep. On the palate, this is toast-like, but here spread with spiced-black-plum conserve, alongside dark-roasted walnuts, espresso oils, and mineral. Very nice bitterness from the hops, and a hint on the finish of scorched orange peel. Notable hoppiness against the powerful and dark-roasted character of the malts. Charred steak with this one, please!
Shmaltz Brewing Company "He’Brew The Chosen Beer" Hanukkah Chanukah Pass the Beer Dark Ale
Clifton Park, NY
8 Malts, 8 Hops, 8% alc.
The color of rich mahogany, or maple syrup on top of pancakes. Smells of pumpernickel bread, yeast, melba toast, and Grape-Nuts, and with lush, giving flavors of toasted pumpernickel and rye, Grape-Nuts, a hint of smoke, and nice bitterness from the hops. Seems custom-made for short ribs and brisket, perhaps with a side dose of maternal guilt, because, when beer is this nice, shouldn’t you feel a little bit bad about not calling your mother and inviting her over to share it with you? She did, after all, trudge uphill to the hospital in the snow and bluster to give birth to you, suffering all these years to raise you and care for you, so how can you ignore her now? Shame on you, to not share this with your mother on Hanukkah!
And one additional note: Shmaltz is offering what is perhaps the best-named variety pack in history—it’s call “Shtick in a Box,” and it contains three bottles each of their Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass the Beer, Messiah Nut Brown Ale, Hop Manna IPA, and Slingshot American Craft Lager.