According to an amusing if likely apocryphal anecdote that was first published in 1956 (but has been oft repeated), a group of engineers were trying to develop an electronic system to translate English to Russian and vice versa. One of the first phrases that they tried was, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The machine quickly translated it, and then translated it back to English, 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 Pesach meals: the meat was agreeable, but the liquor was rotten. Thankfully that’s no longer the case. Today, there are a growing number of quality kosher-for-Passover spirits that are good for both sipping and cocktails, including cognacs, eau de vies, gins, vodkas and liqueurs. Below is a selection of some of them.
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.)
Cognac Louis Royer’s V.S.O.P.: This smooth, medium-bodied, chestnut-colored brandy has flavors and aromas of caramel, mocha, figs, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.
Score B+. ($46.99. Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing,  793-6629.)
Eau de Vie
Clear Creek, Slivovitz, Blue Plum Brandy, Oregon: Distilled from Italian blue plums that were grown in Oregon, this smooth, crystal-clear spirit has both the flavor and aroma of fresh, ripe plums. While dry on the palate, this delightful eau de vie has a nice, lingering sweetness on the finish.
Score B/B+ ($27.96 for a 375 ml bottle. Available at Astor Wines & Spirits, 399 Lafayette St., Manhattan,  674-7500.)
Clear Creek, Kirschwasser, Oregon: Made from cherries grown in Oregon and Washington State, this clear, just-off-dry eau de vie has a rich, almost creamy mouth-feel, and a smooth finish. Look for flavors and aromas of cherries and toasted almonds, with notes of pistachios and vanilla.
Score B+ ($26.99 for a 375 ml bottle. Available at Astor Wines & Spirits, 399 Lafayette St., Manhattan,  674-7500.)
Boukha Bokobsa, France: The Bokobsa family is credited with inventing this fig-based eau de vie, and it has been distilling it commercially since 1880. While initially distilled for the Jewish community of Tunisia, it’s popularity in that country has grown so much that it is now considered Tunisia’s national spirit. Clear and light-bodied, with a smooth, slightly oily mouthfeel, this enjoyable spirit has a gentle flavor with elements of figs, pears and something akin to eucalyptus.
Score B+ ($33.99. Available at Skyview Wine and Liquor, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale,  601-8222.)
Cava Café Coffee Tequila Liqueur: This brown, rich, smooth coffee liqueur has a flavor of coffee and caramel at the front of the palate moving towards vegetal, smoky tequila notes on the finish. Very enjoyable.
Score B/B+ ($38.99. Available at Chateau de Vin, 544 Central Ave., Cedarhurst, L.I.,  374-9643.)
Zachlawi, 10th Anniversary Limited Edition, Fig Arak, New Jersey: This new, barrel-aged fig arak is truly charming. Amber colored, with a rich smooth mouthfeel, this arak exudes flavors of sweet figs and anise with notes of oak, vanilla and coffee.
Score A-/B+ ($35-$40. To be released soon.)
Tequila and Sotol
Cava, Tequila Blanco, Mexico: This double-distilled, clear tequila is smooth and very approachable. Look for vegetal flavors and aromas with a gently smoky background.
Score B/B+ ($45.99. Available at Young’s Fine Wines and Spirits, 505 Plandome Rd., Manhasset, L.I.,  627-1234.)
Hacienda de Chihuahua, Sotol, Plata, Mexico: Sotol is a spirit produced in Mexico’s Chihuahua Desert from the Desert Spoon plant and bears much similarity to tequila and mezcal. This unaged example was made from wild harvested Desert Spoon plants that were thought to be at least 15 years old. It has a richly earthy nose with notes of field greens, sweet apples and menthol. Imbued with a velvety mouthfeel, this spirit has a vegetal, lightly-sweet flavor followed by a lingering finish of pepper and smoke.
Score A-/B+ ($22.99. Available online from www.oldtowntequila.com,  291-4896.)
Vodka and Gin
Distillery 209, Vodka, California: Made from sugarcane at Leslie Rudd’s Distillery 209, located on the San Francisco waterfront, this smooth, crystal-clear vodka has a clean nose with a faint whiff of angelica root. The flavor, too, is clean and well-balanced with a light note of angelica and other herbs mid-palate. A great choice for cocktails or a drink on the rocks.
Score B+ ($27.99. Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing, Queens,  793-6629.)
Lvov, Beet Vodka, Poland: Clear, light-bodied and smooth this beet distillate has a slightly sweet flavor with vegetal and eucalyptus notes. Better as a cocktail ingredient than a sipping vodka.
Score B ($15-$20. Not yet released)
Distillery 209, Gin, California: 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+ ($35.99. Available at Astor Wines & Spirits, 399 Lafayete St., Manhattan,  674-7500.)
While Passover’s dietary requirements are by their very nature restrictive, the addition of luxury spirits to one’s menu can make those restrictions feel rather less severe. So when you head out to buy wine for Passover, think about picking up a bottle of that new breed of kosher-for-Passover spirits. You won’t regret it.
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. Γ
Gamliel Kronemer writes the “Fruit of the Vine” column for The Jewish Week.