It's Sunday night at 9:00 p.m., and Brouwer's Cafe in Fremont is full of Jews. Two Jews are discussing shoes; all of them are drinking brews. Some new Jews are welcomed to a long table by an enthusiastic guy who gestures to the other side of the room, saying, "There's a bunch of Jews over there, too."
The occasion is ostensibly a Hanukkah ale versus Christmas ale taste-off; for one night only, Brouwer's has Jewbelation 5766, the ninth-anniversary offering of "HE'BREW—The Chosen Beer," on tap. (Also available: Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold, AKA "The beer you've been waiting for.") At this juncture, though, the proceedings entirely lack structure. Participants seem to be choosing freely from Brouwer's enormous draft list, and they're mingling with a vengeance. Brouwer's has a sort of swank post-industrial-beer-hall vibe, and the burgeoning crowd makes the cavernous space feel cozy. (Weirdest thing about the place: a cherub fountain urinating a disturbingly wide stream of water in the entryway—that and the nearly entirely automated bathrooms.)
Though the flier for this "Battle Royale of Beers" depicted Santa arm-wrestling a rabbi, the action consists solely of pint lifting and milling around. The party is a special edition of a twice-monthly event called "Jews 'n' Brews" put on by Jconnect Seattle, an organization serving the needs (presumably beer- and nonbeer-related) of local twenty- and thirtysomething Jews.
Jewbelation is billed as "the most extreme Hanukkah beer ever created." In honor of HE'BREW's number-nine birthday, it's made with nine malts and nine kinds of hops, and it's nine percent alcohol by volume. It's beautifully dark and hop heavy, with a toffee flavor and distinct feeling of fortification. A Jew I've brought along, who happens to like dark beer a lot more than I do, judges it to be grand.
Our waiter, whose religious leanings are unclear, is adorable in an Adrien Brody–esque way. He has joined Brouwer's staff after a stint at Ruth's Chris Steak House, which from the sound of it was a trying experience; he deems Brouwer's far better, "not corporate and no penguin suit." We order some food, and he goes away, then comes right back.
"The endive and pancetta gratin—you know that has ham in it," he says. We do. The ham is damn good ham, big smoky cubes of it nestled in the creamy-silky gratinéed endive, all of it with an amazing crusty lid of Gruyère and bread crumbs. (Gratins sans pig—potato and leek or cauliflower and Brussels sprouts—are also available.) To be ensconced in a dark wooden booth at Brouwer's on a Sunday evening, drinking good beer and eating this gratin, surrounded by happy, buzzed Jews, may not be entirely kosher, but it is great.
The next Jews 'n' Brews is December 18 (go to www.jconnectseattle.org for details); info on Jewbelation 5766 may be found at www.shmaltz.com; and Brouwer's Cafe may be found at 400 N 35th St, 267-BIER.