It’s that time of year again. Passover (or Pesach) is an eight day festival, held each spring, which commemorates the emancipation of Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The highlight of the festival is the Seder, a ceremonial feast typically held the first two nights of Passover. Traditionally, wine is served at Seder (four cups per person, in fact) but if wine is not feasible (or desired) there are other beverages you can substitute besides water.
If you are staying observant, you will avoid any foods or beverages using leavened or fermented grains (also called “chametz”). In the booze world, that means no whiskey, as that entire category uses grains which have fermented. This is why matzo, which is made from grains, but unleavened, is allowed to be eaten.
Vodkas and gins sometimes use grains in production, but some are made from ingredients such as potatoes, beets or sugarcane, which would be suitable. Brandy is most traditionally used as a substitute for wine, as its base is fruit, but don’t forget tequila and rum. They can all be made in a suitable way which makes them allowable.
If you are strictly observant, you will want your food and drink to be certified Kosher for Passover. Check packages or bottles for the OU (Orthodox Union) symbol with either a small “p” next to it or the words “Kosher for Passover”.
KOSHER FOR PASSOVER SPIRITS
Slivovitz, a plum brandy, is a spirit commonly shared during the High Holidays, but can be difficult to find. Other eau-de-vies can fit the bill, as is the case with Oregon-based Clear Creek and their Kirschwasser (cherry brandy). They sell this, in addition to their blue plum version, as a Kosher for Passover product. But to really think outside the box, consider the two Kosher for Passover spirits from California’s own Distillery 209. The company offers both a gin and vodka that have been certified by the Orthodox Union made from sugarcane.
This brand is perhaps better known for its Maraschino cherry liqueur, but they make fruit brandies as well. This spirit uses blue plums sourced from 20 year-old trees.
The Italian blue plums used here are sourced from the Pacific Northwest.
Oregon and Washington State cherries are crushed, fermented, and distilled to create this spirit.
This brand makes a non-Kosher for Passover gin as well. In addition to the base ingredient change, this gin substitutes bay leaves sourced from Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley in place of cardamom.
The San Francisco based distillery’s only vodka uses sugarcane in place of the more common grain base.
NO GRAINS HERE
If, however, you are solely looking for products that are not chametz, even if they aren’t certified Kosher for Passover, then there are several types of spirits from which you can choose. The important thing here is to consider both the base ingredient(s) of the product, and also the barrel which is used for aging. If the barrel the spirit was placed in had held whiskey in it previously, then you should avoid it.
Most tequilas and rums utilize former whiskey barrels in the maturation process, so pay special attention to aged versions. Even if a product is clear, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t aged. Look for the mention of new barrels, or if they’ve only been used to age the products that they contain. Nearly all French brandies are suitable, as new or used brandy barrels are used for aging. However, pay careful attention to American brandies, especially larger brands, as ex-whiskey barrels are often used to age them.
The distillery uses virgin, local oak in order to impart honey flavors and further tame the wild, agave character of the spirit.
This is a unique blend of unaged spirit and an extra-aged spirit matured for five years in new American oak barrels. The two components were married together before being charcoal-filtered, in order to give the resulting spirit the freshness and color of a blanco, but the additional layers of complexity that result from barrel aging.
One of Brazil’s only female cachaça distillers, Katia Espírito Santo oversees a sustainable distillation process that begins with the sugarcane that’s grown without pesticides and hand-harvested at her farm, Fazenda da Quinta, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Made from 100% Pennsylvanian potatoes, this vodka is triple-batch distilled in a 1200-liter copper hybrid still.
This spirit is created using organic wines from the plots of clay-limestone soils on the Plateau de Saint-Simeux, which stands above the Charente Valley in the Fins Bois cru. Additionally, there is no caramel coloring, additives, or sugar added to this bottling.