Kosher for Passover Liquor To Get You Through

Because man cannot live on Manischewitz alone, No. 209, which has been making gin on Pier 50 in San Francisco since 1999, released its first vodka this month — just in time for Passover. Because “leavened,” including fermented, grains are forbidden during the eight-day festival, which celebrates the Israelites emancipation from Egypt, spirits that are distilled from these grains are also forbidden. So even vodkas that are certified kosher for the other 357 days of the year, may not be for Passover.

No. 209 to the rescue. Like the first-ever kosher-for-Passover gin on the market, which 209 released in 2010, their foray into the vodka market is distilled from sugarcane.

What about vodkas distilled from grapes, you ask? In theory, yes. Re:fined, for example, a vodka made by two winemakers in Paso Robles using the saignée from their red wine making would be a great option. That is, if they went through the trouble of getting certified. Because distilleries that make grape- or potato-based spirits may also make grain-based spirits, the whole operation is compromised (those particles tend to float around and then the next thing you know, you’ve accidentally broken your covenant with God by drinking a vodka tonic). At 209, Rabbis from the Orthodox Union inspect the still, supervise the process and provide their stamp of approval (literally: look for the “U” with a circle around it).

The Rabbis may answer to a higher authority, but so does the distiller.

Leslie Rudd, who owns No. 209 and also Dean & Deluca, Rudd Winery and Press restaurant in St. Helena (and happens to be Jewish) is not the kind of man who is willing to compromise taste for anything, including biblical law.

In 2003, dissatisfied with the kosher wines on the market, which often undergo a heating process known as mevushal, making them safe for non-observant Jews and Gentiles to handle (and all but destroying the wine), he established Covenant Wines with his friend Jeff Morgan.

Covenant Wines are made just like any high-quality Napa wine, but exclusively by observant Jews and never on Shabbat or religious holidays. That means that automated, unmanned punchdown machines are employed on Saturdays during harvest.

Look for No. 209’s kosher gin and vodka starting this week at bars, restaurants and stores in San Francisco and at Dean & Deluca in St. Helena.