Passover spirits: San Francisco treats from No. 209 Distillery

For those who keep kosher for the Jewish holiday of Passover, a California distillery offers a gin and a vodka that meet religious requirements.  They’re definitely worth a shot.

Kosher for Passover gin and vodka from Distillery 209.

Kosher for Passover gin and vodka from No. 209 Distillery.

Why is No. 209 Distillery different from all other distilleries?

Because it may be the only distillery in the world producing certified kosher for Passover gin and vodka. Which is good news for those who would are to imbibe something other than wine during Passover, which begins at sundown on March 25 and lasts for eight days.

To be sure, there are other kosher-for-Passover vodkas, including Kedem; Zachlawi, from a craft distillery in New Jersey, and L’Chaim, an Israel product.  Alas, I did not taste these.  Nevertheless, I’ve found no other distillery that produces both kosher for Passover gin and Vodka,

No, 209 distillery is a small batch distillery on San Francisco’s Pier 50 and is owned by wine and food entrepreneur Leslie Rudd, who also owns Dean & Deluca, Rudd Oakville Estates and upscale kosher wine producer Covenant Wines. These kosher spirits are the result of Rudd’s decision to task the distillery to produce white liquors that could be enjoyed by observant Jews during Passover.

No. 209’s regular gin and vodka are made from corn ethanol, but grain-based alcohols are prohibited during Passover, because they are considered chametz, or leavened. In other words they’re the same as bread, which observant Jews are not allowed to own or consume during Passover.

The kosher gin and vodka, released in 2010 and 2012, respectively, are the work of No. 209’s “ginerator,” Arne Hillesland, and Covenant associate winemaker Jonathan Hadju. They’re produced under Orthodox Union (O-U) kosher supervision. Both are based on sugar cane, the same base used by Caribbean distillers to produce the white rum known as Rum Agricole

The vodka is a four times, column-distilled base spirit that is filtered through activated charcoal and combined with what the distillery claims is snowmelt from Sierra Nevada Mountains. Tasted chilled and straight, it’s smooth and sweet with no aftertaste. A 750 ml bottle retails for about $30.

Producing a kosher-for-Passover gin was more problematic. Not only could the distillers not use grain, but they also had to pass on several key botanicals that are not Passover approved. As gin fanciers know, it’s the botanicals that make gin, gin. Using the same sugar cane base spirit as used for the vodka, 209’s distillers used Juniper as required by law, but also eight to eleven different botanicals that all adhere strictly to Kosher dietary law. The juniper, from Tuscany, is blended with bergamot orange from Calabria, California bay leaf from Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder, lemon peel from Spain, cassia bark from Indonesia, angelica root from the United Kingdom and coriander seeds from Romania. Cardamom, an essential flavoring in 209’s regular gin, also was forbidden by the Orthodox Union, so the distillers recreated the flavor profile using the bay leaf and other botanicals.

Tasted neat, powerful, but delightfully sweet aromatics of the OU-okayed gin gave way to citrus notes, some sweetness, herbs and a pepper spiciness on the palate. The juniper is subdued. Nevertheless, still quite nice.  A 750 ml bottle sells for $35-$46 at spirits shops throughout the New York metropolitan area, and across the country.

Need a kosher for Passover dry vermouth to make a martini? No problem Kedem, the kosher wine behemoth, makes one.


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