The Vodka is Coming, the Kosher Vodka is Coming

Have a hankering for some kosher vodka?

Within a year, vodka drinkers in North America will be able to order up a kosher version of the drink manufactured in, of all places, the former East Germany.

The Nissenbaums, a western German Jewish family that has made kosher vodka a necessity in Poland, has now begun producing the drink in Germany.

The family plans to begin exporting its kosher vodkas to the United States and Canada beginning in 1995. This year, the family is concentrating on expanding its presence in Germany and Western Europe.

Along with four varieties of kosher vodka, the family produces two after-dinner liqueurs and is planning to produce a line of kosher-for-Passover vodkas.

Located in a town halfway between Berlin and Hanover, the family-owned factory produces what it maintains is Germany’s first kosher vodka.

The drink is made at the former Communist-government-owned Absthof spirits factory, which the Nissenbaums, together with a senior manager at the plant, took over after industry was privatized in the former East Germany.

So what is not kosher about other brands of vodka?

Gideon Nissenbaum, a part-owner of the factory, said other distilleries burn vodka from mixed grains and do not take special hygienic precautions required for making kosher vodka.

Additionally, the Nissenbaums only use kosher yeast. Nissenbaum says several factories use yeast from animal fat.

All bottles of the Nissenbaum kosher vodka carry a seal of kashrut approval signed by Rabbi D. Weisz of the Orthodox Rabbinate in Berlin.

The Nissenbaums make four brands of kosher vodka. One of them — Anatevka, which is made from wheat — is the best-known brand here, possibly because the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” is here called Anatevka, after the village where the story takes place.

‘MAKE JEWISH CULTURE KNOWN VIA VODKA’

There is another brand known as Jon Teff — pronounced like the Yiddish form of “Yom Tov” (holiday) but which most Germans pronounce like John Teff, as though it were somebody’s name.

This brand is made from potatoes and topped off with buffalo grass, a grain that grows on the Polish-Russian border.

The company also brews a Chanukah vodka, which is made from potatoes and topped off with herbs.

These vodkas all contain 40 percent alcohol.

But if that is too weak for your tastes, try the Purim version, which contains 50 percent alcohol.

All Nissenbaum vodkas have a small brochure attached that explains the significance of their names.

“We want to make Jewish culture known via vodka,” said Gideon Nissenbaum.

The Nissenbaums, although not big vodka drinkers themselves, have experience in the business.

Gideon’s father, Zygmunt, is a well-known member of the German Jewish community. The elder Nissenbaum was born in Poland and spent World War II in several concentration camps.

During the 1980s he established the Family Nissenbaum Foundation in Poland to preserve Jewish cultural treasures there, particularly to restore and preserve Jewish cemeteries in Poland.

To keep the foundation running, he set up a joint venture with Poland’s former Communist government, which operated a distillery business.

After much research, Gideon Nissenbaum stumbled upon an old Polish recipe for kosher vodka. The drink soon became an astounding success, and many non-Jewish Poles became convinced it was the only way to go.

Soon, several competing kosher vodka labels were on the Polish market.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Nissenbaum family met with the Treuhandanstalt, the German government privatizing agency, to discuss expanding production to Germany.

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