One of my favorite anecdotes is likely apocryphal and it dates back to the mid-1950s. First mentioned in print in 1956, it involves a group of engineers who were trying to develop an electronic system to translate English to Russian, and vice versa. One of the first phrases the engineers tried was, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The machine quickly translated it, 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’s no longer the case, given the growing number of quality kosher-for-Passover beverages that are good straight up or mixed in cocktails; they include cognacs, eau de vies, vodkas and gin.
One of the best kosher le’Pesach spirits on the market is Cognac Edmond Dupuy X.O. Aged 21 years, this light-chestnut-colored brandy, made from a blend of Ugni Blanc and Muscadelle grapes, has a rich bouquet of caramel, apples, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Look for flavors of apples, cinnamon, caramel, white pepper and spices. Smooth and well balanced, with a nice bit of sweetness, a snifter of this brandy would make an excellent digestif.
Score A/A-. ($89.99. Available at Chateau de Vin, 544 Central Ave., Cedarhurst, L.I.,  374-9643)
For a more moderately priced Cognac, and a good choice for both sipping and use in cocktails, try Louis Royer’s V.S.O.P. Cognac, which is a smooth, medium-bodied, chestnut-colored brandy that has flavors and aromas of caramel, mocha, figs, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.
Score B+. ($61.99. Available at 67 Wine, 179 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan,  724-6767)
While kosher le’Pesach Slivovitz, a traditional Eastern-European plum eau de vie, has been available for decades, Oregon’s Clear Creek Distillery has recently begun producing what is by far the best one I’ve tasted. Clear Creek’s Slivovitz Blue Plum Brandy is distilled from a simple fermentation of Italian Blue plums that were grown in Oregon. Both the flavor and aroma of this smooth, crystal-clear spirit are redolent of fresh, ripe plums. While dry on the palate, this delightful eau de vie has a nice, lingering sweetness on the finish. Although not readily suited for cocktails, this Slivovitz would make an excellent apéritif, perhaps served with a bowl of roasted nuts.
Score B/B+ ($31 for a 375 ml. bottle. Available at Park Avenue Liquor, 292 Madison Ave., Manhattan,  685-2442)
Clear Creek also produces a kosher le’Pesach Kirschwasser, which is made from cherries grown in Oregon and Washington State. With a rich, almost creamy mouth feel, and a smooth finish, this just-off-dry, crystal clear eau de vie has flavors and aromas of cherries and toasted almonds, with notes of pistachios and vanilla. It would be equally good as either a digestif or cocktail ingredient.
Score B+ ($29.99 for a 375 ml. bottle. Available at 67 Wine, 179 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan,  724-6767)
If cocktails are your thing, then a bottle of Distillery No. 209’s kosher-for-Passover gin would be a good investment. Made at Leslie Rudd’s Distillery No. 209, located on the San Francisco waterfront, this smooth, supple gin 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.
Score B+ ($36.99. Available at Beekman Liquors, 500 Lexington Ave., Manhattan,  759-5857)
The quality of kosher le’Pesach vodka has really started to shoot up in the past few years, and the best I’ve tasted is Distillery No. 209’s Kosher-for-Passover Vodka. Made from sugarcane, this smooth, crystal-clear vodka has a clean nose with a faint whiff of angelica root. The flavor is also clean and well balanced with a light note of angelica and other herbs mid-palate. It would be a great choice in cocktails or on the rocks.
Score B+ ($33.99. Available at Whiskey & Wine Off 69, 1321 Second Ave., Manhattan,  585-0005)
Made a little bit closer to home, the Zachlawi Distillery, which is located on the Jersey Shore, makes a kosher le’Pesach 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).
Score B ($29.99. Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor 69-30 Main Street, Flushing,  793-6629)
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 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.
Spirits are scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.