By Gamliel Kronemer
L’chaim—to life—is the traditional toast one gives, particularly when toasting with distilled spirits. Spirits were historically viewed to be life imbuing (hence the term ‘spirits’) and indeed many names for common types of liquor—whiskey, eau de vie, aquavit,–merely mean “water of life.” While modern medical science may no longer believe that distilled spirits are a panacea for all of life’s ills, a nice dram can still warm one’s innards, and enliven one’s mood. So as you get ready to celebrate Succos in the spirit of Toras Chaim, why not enliven the occasion by toasting “l’chaim” with one of the growing number of kosher spirits now available.
Cognac, the famous brandy of southwestern France, is generally considered to be the best brandy, and one of the best distilled spirits, in the world. Cognac is made from primarily Ugni Blanc grapes which are crushed and fermented, before being distilled twice in copper pot stills, and aged for no less than two years in French-oak barrels. What makes Cognac such a great brandy, is its unique ability to truly capture the essences of the original fruit and terroir.
Louis Royer’s Kosher XO Cognac has long been one of the best kosher Cognacs on the market. Rich and heavy, this supple and sweet 12-year-old, dark-walnut colored brandy has flavors and aromas of caramel, figs, baked apples, roasted hazelnuts, allspice and star anise. It is a treat on any occasion. Louis Royer’s more affordable, but still delightful, VSOP Cognac is a smooth, medium-bodied blend of 4- to-6-year old brandies, which has flavors and aromas of caramel, mocha, figs, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.
A more recent but very welcome addition to the kosher cognac market is Godet’s kosher Fine de Cognac. The Godet family has been making kosher cognac on and off for almost a century, and this new bottling is their first kosher release that they’ve had in over a decade. This tawny-caramel colored, brandy has a nose of apples (both stewed and raw), apricots, cloves, sultanas, and white pepper. The flavor is dry and herbaceous at the front of the palate, moving towards apples and raisins mid-palate, and a touch of caramel on the finish.
Whisk(e)y is one of the most popular spirits in the world. In the most basic of terms whiskey is distilled beer, and is it made in a variety of different styles throughout the world (and it has a variety of spellings—in America and Ireland it is spelled with an ‘e’, and in Canada, India, Japan and Scotland it’s spelled without.) In the highlands of Scotland whiskey is most often double distilled (as with Cognac) in pot stills, while in Tennessee and Kentucky it is far more commonly distilled in column stills. Here are two kosher whiskies to try.
Boondock’s American Whiskey is one of a small handful craft-distillery whiskies which are now produced under kosher supervision. Distilled by Dave Scheurich (formerly Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve), Boondock’s is a creamy-smooth, sweet, 11-year-old tawny colored whiskey. The bouquet is redolent of honey, fennel, and rye spice, while the taste is dominated by corn sweetness, with a touch of rye spice, and a toffee note on the finish.
Tomintoul Tlàth is one of the most recent kosher bottlings to come out of Scotland. Tlàth means gentle in Gaelic, and this is certainly a very gentle, easy to drink, single-malt Speyside whisky. This dark-copper colored whisky has flavors and aromas of malt, herbs, fresh churned butter, toffee, leather, citrus and lavender, with a lighter than typical touch of peat.
Eau de Vies
Eau de vies—un-aged fruit brandies—are made by fermenting crushed fresh fruit, and double distilling the resulting fruit wine in a copper pot still. In the kosher world, unfortunately, there are only a handful of eau de vies on the market, and one of the very best is Bokobsa’s Boukha Cuvee Prestige. Made from figs, this clear eau de vie has a rich, oily, mouthfeel, with a light flavor and aroma of dried figs, a touch of earthiness, and an intriguing hint of butterscotch.
Liqueurs are sweet spirits made by infusing a spirit base—usually a neutral spirit, but sometimes a brandy, rum or whisky—with fruits and or herbs, and then sweetening with sugar. A growing number of liqueurs now have kosher supervision. Here are two worth trying.
Montell Orange Liqueur reminds me a bit of the Sabra Liqueur, that onetime ubiquitous Israeli spirit, which was first distilled 56 years ago, and which remains both a duty-free staple at Ben Gurion Airport, as well as a fine after dinner dram. The Montell is however accentuating the flavor of the delightful Israeli oranges even more. This bronze colored liqueur is rich, smooth, and just as billed—redolent with flavors and aromas of dark chocolate and candied orange peels. While sweet, the liqueur is well structured with the bitterness of the orange balancing the sugar.
Zachlawi’s 10 th Anniversary Limited Edition Fig Arak is both unique and charming. Made in New Jersey, this barrel aged, copper colored liqueur has a unique profile more reminiscent of a French pastis than an Israeli Arak. Look for aromas of anise, licorice root and allspice with a whiff of earthiness. The flavor has elements of stewed figs, black licorice, star anise and mocha, with hints of mint, oak and vanilla.