Growing up, it was my duty as the youngest person at the table to ask the traditional four questions during my family’s Passover Seder. Now as an adult, I have a fifth question that I often struggle with: What liquor is kosher to drink during the eight-day holiday?
While the last few years have a seen a proliferation of kosher high-end spirits (or ones getting certified kosher), like Glenmorangie Original 10 Year Old, Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve Single Malt Scotch, and Milagro Tequila, Passover adds a new wrinkle for observant imbibers.
The holiday, which starts at sundown tonight, commemorates the Jews’ struggle for freedom from slavery in pharaoh-era Egypt. They had to hurriedly flee the country and outrun the pharaoh’s army. As a result they had no time to wait for their bread to rise.
So what does that leave a thirsty Israelite? Well, most wine that is kosher is also usually kosher for Passover. (And there are actually many fine kosher wines for sale now from around the world.)
While rum (made from molasses or sugar cane), tequila (made from agave) and potato vodka could certainly become certified kosher for Passover, most of the brands have not taken that step. The Orthodox Union, which is the major organization in the U.S. to certify foods, warns that the only way to know for sure that a product is kosher for Passover is if it’s certified and the packaging is marked.
Fortunately, there are now several spirits that have gone through the process and are officially kosher for Passover. Craft distillery No. 209 in San Francisco produces a version of its gin that uses a cane sugar base.
The distillery also had to swap out some of its standard botanicals in order to comply with the rules of the holiday. In addition, No. 209 now also produces a vodka that also has a cane sugar base and is permissible to use during Passover. (The gin and the vodka both sell for $43.)
Brandy is another obvious fit for the celebration, since it’s made from a range of fruits. One classic Passover favorite is the potent Eastern European staple slivovitz, which is made from plums.
For a long time, “the only alcohol beverage you had for Passover was slivovitz,” remembers Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the COO of the OU’s Kashruth Department. Look out for Jelinek’s 5 Year Old and Silver slivovitz, which are produced in the Czech Republic and have the OU’s approval.
While the spirit can be tough to mix with other ingredients, a shot of it after dinner is supposed to help aid digestion. (Handy, after a Seder of heavy classic Jewish dishes, like matzo ball soup, kugel, and brisket.)
If you prefer smooth French cognac, Louis Royer, which was founded back in 1853, offers a number of fine kosher-for-Passover bottlings, including their VS, VSOP, XO and Napoleon. This means you can pour yourself an after-Seder snifter of brandy while you enjoy a traditional macaroon and a piece of chocolate-covered matzo.