According an amusing if likely-apocryphal anecdote which was first published in 1956 (but has since oft been repeated), a group of engineers were trying to develop an electronic system to translate English to Russian and vice versa. One of the first phrases that they tried was “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The machine quickly translated it, then translated it back to English, and came up with “The liquor is agreeable, but the meat is rotten.”
In the mid-1950s — and for that matter in the early-2000s — just the reverse was true at most Passover meals: The meat was agreeable but the liquor was rotten. Thankfully that need no longer be the case. Today there are a growing number of quality kosher for Passover spirits that are good for both sipping and cocktails, including Cognacs, eau de vies, gins, vodkas, and liqueurs.
Cognac, the king of brandies, is also the king of kosher for Passover spirits. Cognac, produced in a region of South-Western France, is made from primarily Ugni Blanc grapes which are crushed and fermented, before being distilled twice (like single malt Scotch whisky) in copper pot stills, and aged for no less than two years in French-oak barrels. What makes Cognac such a great brandy is its unique ability to truly capture the essences of the original fruit and soil.
Perhaps the best kosher le’Passover Cognac is Louis Royer’s Cognac X.O. It’s a rich and heavy, dark-walnut colored, 12-year-old brandy which has flavors and aromas of caramel, figs, baked apples, roasted hazelnuts, allspice, and star anise. Smooth and supple, with a long, sweet finish, a snifter of this Cognac would make a lovely digestif.
Louis Royer’s younger V.S.O.P. Cognac is also worth seeking out. Made from a blend of four to six year old brandies, this smooth, medium-bodied, chestnut-colored Cognac has flavors and aromas of caramel, mocha, figs, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.
Eau de vie, French for “water of life,” is a term used to describe un-aged, double distilled fruit brandies. While there are many kosher for Passover types of eau de vie on the market, such as Slivovitz and Kirshwasser, one of the best kosher eau de vies to come to market in recent years is Bokobsa’s new Boukha Cuvee Prestige. Boukha is a fig eau de vie, which is now considered the national spirit of Tunisia. It was invented by the Bokobsa family, who have been producing it commercially since 1880. The Cuvee Prestige is a clear colored, double distilled fig brandy, which has a smooth oily mouthfeel, with flavors and aromas of figs and cardamom. It is best served slightly chilled.
If cocktails are your thing, then buying a bottle of Distillery 209’s Kosher for Passover gin would be a good investment. Made at Leslie Rudd’s Distillery 209, located on the San Francisco waterfront, this five times distilled sugarcane based gin is smooth and supple. It has a nose of juniper and citrus, with a whiff of spice. Look for flavors of juniper, dried orange peel, and coriander seed on the palate, with a nice hint of allspice on the finish.
The quality of kosher for Passover vodka has really started to shoot up in the past few years, and perhaps the best available today is the Distillery 209 Vodka. Made from sugarcane, and distilled five times, this smooth, crystal-clear vodka has a clean nose with a faint whiff of angelica root. The flavor too is clean and well balanced with a light note of angelica and other herbs mid-palate. It would be a great choice for enjoying in cocktails or by itself on the rocks.
The Zachlawi Distillery, which is located on the Jersey Shore, makes a kosher for Passover Sweet Potato Vodka. This faint-straw colored spirit is surprisingly sweet both on the nose and pallet. Look for flavors and aromas of liquorice and fennel. This vodka should make for an interesting cocktail ingredient (try it in a Rickey).
Finally, for those with a sweet tooth, there are also a growing number of kosher for Passover liqueurs. Most liqueurs are made by macerating or distilling fruits and spices in natural sugarcane alcohol, adding a sugar syrup, and filtering. Binyamina’s Limoncello would be a good choice for those seeking a sweet dram to add to their Passover menu. It is a well-balanced, cloudy, pale-yellow liqueur which has flavors and aromas of lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar.
While Passover’s dietary requirements are by their very nature restrictive, the addition of luxury goods, such as a bottle or two of spirits, to one’s menu can make those restrictions feel rather less severe. So when you head out to buy your wine for Passover, think about picking up a bottle of that new breed of kosher for Passover spirits. You won’t regret it.