Friday, March 26, 2010

Kosher for Passover Gin

What is permissible to drink at a Passover seder is terribly important to me. Having a Jewish wife, I am assured of attending two seders every year, and something is needed to get one through those four-to-five-hour ceremonies. 

I don't think I alone in my desperation. Otherwise, why would people be inventing things like Kosher for Passover gin? Obviously, there's a call for such a product. And No. 209 gin out of California was the first to answer it. The new gin bows this year. I wrote about it for Tasting Table:

A More Spiritual Spirit
The drinking options at the seder table keep getting better and better.
In the dark ages, the only option was sticky-sweet Manischewitz. Then a quality revolution gripped the wine world, and the seder's ceremonial cups became less of a trial and more of a pleasure.
Now, thanks to Distillery No. 209's new Passover-friendly gin, spirits lovers have something to celebrate.
To make kosher gin a reality, master distiller Arne Hillesland replaced No. 209's usual base spirit with a sugarcane vodka from a kosher-for-Passover distillery in South Africa.
Hillesland further altered his recipe by replacing cardamom (a no-no for Passover, since the herb comes in a pod) with California bay leaf, which has a strong menthol flavor. The resulting gin is similar to the standard 209, but the kosher version has a slightly sharper flavor and more viscous mouthfeel.
The costly process of making a kosher alternative--which includes hiring a mashgiach (a kosher supervisor) to oversee production--raises the price to $39 a bottle, about $4 more than the regular No. 209. But so far people have been willing to pay the premium: Hillesland says sales have been brisk.
So this year, have a martini (or one of these cocktails) with your matzo brei. Just remember to mix it with kosher-for-Passover vermouth--yes, it does exist.
—Robert Simonson
No. 209's usual base is corn-derived.

To ensure that the California Bay Leaf Hillesland used in the gin was kosher, and wasn't touched by any suspect machinery, the distiller actually picked the leaves from the trees himself.

The Kosher-for-Passover No. 209 will only be available in New York, New Jersey and California this year. Hillesland made 800 cases. He thinks they'll sell.

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