A Dream Realized – The Finest Kosher For Passover Slivovitz

It started when we lived in Warsaw and Rabbi Kastenbaum, our shochet, brought community-made slivovitz from Budapest to us for Passover. It was like nothing I had ever tried, was %70+ alcohol, and redefined slivovitz for me. It had no label, was in clear half-liter bottles, and sealed with a tiny cork.

I found myself on a ski trip on the Slovakian side of the Tatry Mountains soon thereafter. When we checked into the large guest home we were renting with a bunch of Polish Jews for our ski trip, and we sealed the deal with his home-brewed slivovitz. Within a day, I had learned to drink the 150 proof mountain dew first thing in the AM like our hosts.

Hand crafted Slivovitz is unlike vodka is every way. It is delightfully aromatic, bathing your mouth in ripe plum essence. It rolls down the back of your throat without a burn. You can drink it at room temp or cold, without a chaser, mixer, or anything else to divert your taste buds from the experience.

Sadly, poor quality slivovitz has flooded the markets from Yugoslavia, Hungary, and other Central European countries. The heavy drinking blue-color, immigrant slivovitz drinkers just want sliv. They drink so quantities that they don’t care really how it tastes. The cheaper the better. I have also seen plum-flavored vodkas being passed off as slivovitz. They are merely taking low quality vodka and adding plum taste – it should be illegal.

When we returned to the States, I looked in vain for a decent Passover Slivovitz. I tried every brand, and was disappointed at every turn. I made a promise to myself that some day I would make a real slivovitz like we used to drink back in the old country. When we moved to California in 2004 it seemed that destiny was edging us closer, and closer to the dream.

In 2008, a beshert meeting between winemakers proved the missing link. Bill Mosby, a highly respected wine and spirits producer had been making eau-de-vie from raspberries, strawberries, plums, and grapes. He had a special equipment from Europe and sources for the highest quality fruits. All he was missing was a rabbi to help him make kosher slivovitz. The winemakers he bumped into were none other than Jewlicious Festival’s own “Wine Guys” – Jonathan Hajdu and Gabriel Weiss. The Wine Guys told Bill – we have the rabbi.

From the moment I met Bill up at his winery, I knew that this was going to work out to be a beautiful partnership. We saw the operation, discussed how to do everything so that the slivovitz would be not only kosher, but kosher for Passover, and meet rigorous kosher standards. We would have to kasher his equipment, buy new storage barrels, be on site during production, and so on. He agreed to everything, and we started making slivovitz.

It took over a year until we were all satisfied that this was the best slivovitz possible. We brought down the alcohol to %43 a bit so that mortals could drink it. Bill’s artist from Europe created a stunning label. It was bottled on Rosh Codesh Adar.

Currently, this much anticipated Cal Kosher Certified, Mosby Plum Brandy Slivovitz, Kosher for Passover is available in LA at two stores – K and L Wine Merchants, with online ordering, and The Duke of Bourbon of Canoga Park. Both stock the slivovitz, and K and L will ship it to you around the country.

Wishing everyone a kosher and joyous Passover!

32 Comments

  1. Frugal Dougal

    3/21/2010 at 10:44 am

    When you say %70+ alcohol, do you mean US measures (degrees alcohol) or British measures (% alcohol by volume)?

  2. froylein

    3/21/2010 at 10:51 am

    Stay clear of homemade spirits. Hundreds of people die or go blind in Eastern Europe every year (whole wedding parties even) because of homemade alcoholic beverages.

    (This is not a public service announcement, but a hint at how not to get chosen for a Darwin Award.)

  3. Ephraim

    3/22/2010 at 2:31 am

    When I was living in Japan I had some 140 proof (70% alcohol) slivovitz. Awesome stuff.

  4. ck

    3/22/2010 at 2:44 am

    Froylein: Just to be clear, this isn’t “homemade.” I personally can’t even smell Slivovitz, but it seems to make Rabbi Yonah and Ashkenazic Jews happy. Must be a genetic Ashkenazic thing. Like Tay Sachs. Whatever the case may be, I have a feeling it’s gonna be a particularly joyous Passover in the Bookstein and other households!

    • froylein

      3/22/2010 at 10:53 am

      CK, just to be clear, I was referring to homemade in general in the same sense as it was used in the post. I don’t like schnapps in general even though there are five major destilleries in the family. I just don’t want Rabbi Yo or anybody else to go blind from somebody’s experimenting with a home destillery. :)

  5. wineguy

    5/12/2010 at 12:25 pm

    Right on Froylein!

    Not only should you not drink home distilled alcohol, because u might go blind, you should not eat homemade food because u might die!

    There are over 5000 deaths in the united states caused by homemade food poisoning don’t eat at anyone’s house.

    In fact, you should only eat factory processed food, because it is regulated, and therefore much better, and much safer.

    Make sure everything is vacuum sealed its neat little plastic package.

    • froylein

      5/13/2010 at 6:20 am

      Wineguy, to give you the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume you’ve had too much of your home-distilled alcohol otherwise you wouldn’t have come up with an analogy as lame and flawed.

  6. wineguy

    5/13/2010 at 4:05 pm

    foylein

    Flawed? I think not. I think its fair to say that eating home made food at someones house is no less dangerous than drinking home made spirits. And Lame? Please what could be more lame than your ridiculous prohibitionist rhetoric.

    People have been distilling their own Eau De Vie’s for centuries made from fruits and flowers and they have been drinking them not only for their taste but for their health benefiting qualities. That is why they are called Eau De Vie “Water of Life”

    seriously froylein

    get a drink :)

    • froylein

      5/13/2010 at 4:49 pm

      It remains flawed. People cannot do without food, but healthy people can do without alcohol. (The health benefits, BTW, are outweighed greatly by its hazardous effects, which is highlighted in recommendations such as that adult women should not consume more alcohol per week than is contained in half a glass of red wine.) Homemade meals remain more wholesome than factory-produced ones, e.g. homemade bread on average contains seven-times as much fibre as processed bread. People have the sensory abilities it takes to determine whether foods have gone bad, they don’t have the sensory abilities to determine whether they’re drinking methyl alcohol or ethanol or whether their beverage contains a heat-resistant strain of bacteria not uncommonly found after non-professional alcoholic fermentation.

      Even though you conveniently conflate the risks of home-distilled alcohol and the risks of alcohol in general, let me add – off-topic actually – that spirits were called eau de vie, aquavit, or whiskey in days when people had little understanding of how alcohol affected their bodies, and they used alcohol to sanitise their drinking water in most cases as is well-documented from the Antiquity through the Middle Ages up to the first half of the twentieth century.

      On-topic, thousands of people get negatively affected by home-distilled alcohol every year in ways not related to alcohol per se but by distilling (or fermenting also in the case of wine and beer) gone wrong. Professional distillers have their products lab-tested regularly to minimise the risk of such negative effects. (How do I know? There are five big, professional distillers in my family, professional vintners among my friends.)

      Seriously, Wineguy, spare us your irresponsible rants. Feel free to debate the issue with the FDA.

  7. wineguy

    5/14/2010 at 10:52 am

    Froylein

    just a few corrections

    1. People CAN taste many impurities or contaminants in alcoholic beverages, weather they be spirits wine or beer.

    2. There are no bacteria in distilled spirits.

    (Off topic I’m curious what dangerous bacteria are you referring to in the fermentation process? In my ten years as a professional winemaker I have never seen a dangerous bacteria or tested a wine for one, not once, so I’m really curious)

    3. Most dangers in home distilling are caused by contaminants from materials used in still construction (i.e. lead) which you didn’t even mention.

    In places where it is LEGAL to home distill, people should continue to enjoy, and drink home distilled spirits responsibly.

    If this bothers you so much YOU can debate the issue with those countries who allow home distillation.

    I’m not saying your should just drink anything that some stranger offers you. You shouldn’t, just like you shouldn’t eat anything strange or suspect. Its common sense.

    Not only were your comments about the risks of drinking home distilled spirits completely over exaggerated but they were also irrelevant to the article which doesn’t even mention home distilling.

    Its fair to warn people to be careful, home distillation can be dangerous if not done properly, alcohol can be dangerous if abused, but to tell people they are very likely to die or go blind, is just not right, no matter how many of your family members are in the business.

  8. froylein

    5/14/2010 at 12:43 pm

    Wineguy, read that part of my sentence again:
    or whether their beverage contains a heat-resistant strain of bacteria not uncommonly found after non-professional alcoholic fermentation.
    The only noun “beverage” can be equated with is the use of the generic “alcohol” a few lines above.
    It clearly refers to alcoholic fermentation, not distilling. If you’re really a professional winegrower, I suppose you’ve learnt the theory of your trade along with its practice and know about the many varieties of aerobic bacteria on the peel of fruit that can be harmful and survive alcoholic fermentation.
    The main danger in home distilling is getting methyl alcohol instead of ethanol (a thing people can’t taste – even expert wine tasters can’t as the wine adulteration scandals of the 1980s and 1990s clearly demonstrated, when large quantities of wine were illegally “amped up” with glycol); people don’t run a high risk of instantly going blind or dropping dead by the dozens from lead poisoning. Lead is slightly soft at room temperature already and has got a low boiling point (one easily achieved when boiling anything that contains a variety of sugar); it wouldn’t be used in solid apparatus. Lead poisoning usually stems from old-fashioned plumbing as in lead-coated pipes and drains (leaded water can contaminate more foods); smoking and air pollution are other possibilities. In the Antiquity, lead acetate was used to sweeten wine, but people then had only limited understanding of the toxic properties of lead.

    Also, please be aware that you commented long after the post was originally up. The word “homemade” was used in the post [and obviously since replaced] in the way I picked it up as I’d already explained above. Also, please note that I warn again home-distilled alcohol based on hundreds of people getting negatively affected by it every year. There’s nothing at all factually wrong about that claim. Had I wanted to say what you read into it, I would have said it.
    And moreover, I’d like to stress that my family members are not in the business of home distilling but are professional distillers with large distilling plants.

  9. wineguy

    5/14/2010 at 2:54 pm

    Froylein I’m not in the home distillation business either although I do work for some distilleries

    I’m done arguing with you

    The fact is you cannot get enough methanol from the fermentation and distillation of sugar to poison someone. The methanol levels just arent high enough. Feel free to look into it.

    • froylein

      5/15/2010 at 1:37 am

      The methanol comes from incorrect distilling; something that happens so often in the FSU, where entire wedding parties are affected, that it isn’t even newsworthy there anymore. It also happens here in the West, where the most newsworthy concern is the licensing (or lack of it) of home-distillers. Any highschool student learns that high methanol levels can be achieved in incorrect distilling processes during organic chemistry class. And that is when not aiming to make rubbing alcohol, ice-remover or cleaning white spirit. Feel free to learn more about your trade than they teach high school students over here (which, admittedly, is one of Europe’s major wine-growing regions, but they also teach that kind of thing in other parts of the country).

  10. wineguy

    5/14/2010 at 3:57 pm

    I must add since I don’t want to be called irresponsible again

    people do make disgusting hooch from methylated spirit (denatured alcohol) not made for human consumption.

    and this will make you go blind

    so only drink something if you know what it is

    l’chaim

  11. wineguy

    5/16/2010 at 9:32 am

    “The fact is you cannot get enough methanol from the fermentation and distillation of sugar to poison someone. The methanol levels just aren’t high enough. Feel free to look into it.”

    methanol is not a product of fermentation

    methanol can be made from distilling wood

    most methanol poisoning is caused by people spiking drinks with wood alcohol or distilling methylated alcohol.

    there is a small amount of methanol in fruit juices and wine from the breakdown of pectin enzyme.

    in wine the average methanol content is 50-200 parts per million .005-.020%

    apple juice has a higher methanol content

    most of the small amounts of methanol are removed with the heads during the distillation process which I’m sure you must be familiar with.

    • froylein

      5/16/2010 at 10:06 am

      You keep falsely claiming I’d linked methanol to fermentation while I’ve repeatedly and clearly linked it to faulty distilling. You do not only get methanol from distilling wood, pretty much any plant hydrocarbon can be used as a base for distilling, but the mash doesn’t define the outcome.

      You may reiterate your intentionally flawed reading of what I wrote above as much as you like if that makes you feel better about yourself, but it won’t change what I stated above.

      Oh, BTW, enzymes are proteins.

  12. wineguy

    5/17/2010 at 8:38 am

    Distillation by definition is a physical reaction
    the mash directly defines the outcome

    Distillation should not and cannot form methanol that is not present in the mash

    I meant pectin my mistake

    • froylein

      5/17/2010 at 8:48 am

      Something tells me you wouldn’t know a chemical process from a physical one if either wore a sign stating their identity or you’d know how they overlap in distilling.

  13. wineguy

    5/18/2010 at 9:02 am

    Distillation is a method of separating mixtures based on differences in their volatilities in a boiling liquid mixture. Distillation is a unit operation, or a physical separation process, and not a chemical reaction.

    I cant find any information anywhere that supports your claim that distillation creates methanol

    not in any texts books on distillation

    not on any home distillation websites

    not from the international centre for brewing and distilling

    not from distillers

    and you claim that not only that methanol formation is possible but that it happens often

    are you going to explain this or just hurl silly insults

  14. froylein

    5/18/2010 at 9:42 am

    You’ll find references galore if you really search for them. Then again, you were the one who started hurling insults and misrepresented what I said, adding unrelated topics to drive or argue points that had never been made to begin with. You had to concede to my initial statements and now try to take your concessions back.
    Instead of copying and pasting individual lines from mediocre-at best wannabe reference sites (that interlink and share the info they provide) and at that showing how clueless you really are, you might want to take a brush-up on science at your local community college. I don’t need anybody to copy-&-paste lines from various websites here that, as far as reference is concerned, nobody seriously interested in a topic pays any attention to. It’s a waste of webspace, streaming, and, bluntly put, my time. I rather stick to the science faculty at my place of work.

  15. wineguy

    5/18/2010 at 10:09 am

    I posted the simple definition of distillation it was from wiki

    sue me

    it is the correct definition

    “the mash doesn’t define the outcome.”

    you still havent explained how its possible the create methanol during distillation or why no one seems to know about it.

    I never conceded to your initial statements I don’t know why yo think I did

  16. wineguy

    5/18/2010 at 10:26 am

    Sorry froylein

    I dont ever work with cereal mashes

    I just got some new information

    you are correct it is possible to to get methanol from the breakdown of cellwalls during distillation.

    it is still directly related to what is in the mash

    but it happens

  17. wineguy

    5/18/2010 at 2:15 pm

    I still believe it is unlikely that fermentation and distillation can build up the kind of levels of methanol necessary to poison someone, and it is more likely that these instances of poisoning are caused by bootleggers adding methylated spirit or methanol.

  18. froylein

    5/18/2010 at 2:54 pm

    This is not about belief, this is about knowing (e.g. that plant cells have pretty much all got the same basic structure). This is not about bootleged brandname spirits (as caused fatalities in Turkey, which made the news in 2009), but homemade distilling gone wrong. There’s no point in making an extra batch of methanol if you’re already trying to make your own ethanol.
    Belief, in that regard, is cynical and remains irresponsible.

    Now please save our precious bandwith from ruminated search engine results.

  19. wineguy

    5/18/2010 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks froylein

    I know that its not about belief

    but you are either missing or ignoring the point

    which is that although there is some methanol formed during fermentation and distillation it is not in quantities sufficient to poison people

  20. froylein

    5/18/2010 at 3:32 pm

    No, that is not the point. That is what you wish to believe. Now really, save our bandwidth from your chaloimes.

    • themiddle

      5/18/2010 at 7:49 pm

      Kids, since we’re fond of both of you, it’s time to put the argument to rest. If Froylein is right, I’d still have no problem trying Yonah’a Slivovitz and if Wineguy is right, then I’ll survive it.

  21. froylein

    5/18/2010 at 10:04 pm

    Middle, apparently I’m right as various of Wineguy’s concessions above show, but he doesn’t want to believe this can be right. :)
    We’ve got a lot of young readers, also below legal drinking age, and we do bear a particular responsibility.

  22. themiddle

    5/18/2010 at 11:01 pm

    So far, Yonah has remained alive…

  23. froylein

    5/19/2010 at 11:21 am

    A couple of thousand of SFU citizens haven’t. I can also show you old smokers that have never been troubled by lung cancer, but it might be worth noting that in the Old World it was generally understood among Jews that harming yourself was prohibited, alcohol was a scarcity pretty much limited to rite. Just consider that the Yiddish word “shikker” not just means “drunk” but denotes somebody who’s got serious drinking issues while it was adopted into German for somebody who’s just a little tipsy. Alcoholism is still widely spread in Germany, where legal drinkig age was only raised recently from age 16 to age 18, you may D a little UI, where the production of alcoholic beverages has got a tradition dating back millennia etc. This just to highlight how the standards between the Jewish and the non-Jewish perception differed between what constituted as an alcoholic.

    But if you really must, I can get you so much free, strong booze that you can pickle yourself in it.

  24. Laughter

    3/24/2012 at 9:41 pm

    Just came across this 2 years later, while searching for kosher Slivovitz. Am going to bookmark this under “bossy Jewish woman arguing” ;)

  25. Adam

    10/28/2013 at 7:57 pm

    It’s more than “bossy Jewish woman,” she’s an idiot. How I wish I had seen this before.

    Regardless of how much methanol is produced, having a lower boiling temperature (148.5°F/64.7°C) than ethanol (173.1°F 78.37°C), is easily filtered by heat distillation. That’s why the foreshots/heads (start of the distilled flow) is tossed as is the feint/tails (because of foul tasting fusel oils).

    But lets say someone just turned a pot still on to 180°F and didn’t filter a thing – all the methanol produced by fermentation remained. According to this genius, you’d go blind.

    Clearly she comes from one of the dumber Jewish families, having no exposure to medicine, because the most common drug used in treatment for methanol poisoning is…

    ETHANOL.

    Hell, they even riffed on this in an early season episode House, where he does vodka shots with a death row prisoner who tried to kill himself with copy toner fluid. Ethanol serves as a competitive inhibitor for methanol, preventing the metabolization of methanol into formic acid which is what destroys the optic nerve. There is an alternative, Fomepizole, but it costs about 100 times as much.

    Unlike froylein, I’m not going to leave it to the reader to find support for my claims. I’m not going to be lazy, or be intellectually irresponsible – nor ignore the Jewish concept of ?????? ??? ??? ????? so see for yourself:

    ncbi.nlm.nih.g...
    emedicine.meds...

    Note I said heat distillation. There are a few traditional beverages (obviously not necessarily poisonous because of their continued and traditional existence) that are made the other way, thermodynamically speaking – Applejack, for instance.

    Freeze distillation can concentrate methanol levels as it has a lower freezing point than ethanol, but since she didn’t bother to distinguish distillation, since these are the rare exceptions in distillation and only available in some parts of the world, while fire is everywhere (nor does freezing produce alcohol content anywhere nearly as strong), since she didn’t provide a single reference for her claims, or demonstrate a lick of knowing, well, anything, we are [paraphrase] all dumber for reading her blather, and she is awarded no points by the Editor in heaven.

    And since she likes to highlight the standards between Jewish and non-Jewish perception, my perception of you, particularly on your ability to argue intelligently, open a book, and knowledge of medicine, is summed up by this:

    takeh a goyishe kopf

    (Finally, the reason for the associate of blindness with “homemade” liquor has historical roots, but nothing to do with being homemade. In times of heavy taxation and prohibition, one off, counterfeit moonshine (and I don’t mean to disrespect those with long – hundred plus years – of family distilled products, hence the “counterfeit) would be made by combining poisonous liquids with whatever tasted close enough to drinking alcohol to lower the specific gravity to pass ad hoc testing by weight or with a hydrometer.

    This was for quick profit, as killing your customers (or your customers’ customers) is not a way to run a sustainable business. To say home distillation is fundamentally unsafe because of this is like saying medicine is fundamentally unsafe because there are murderers who produced fake medicine for profit, see economist.com/...

    The only serious risk in home distillation is for the distiller: the combination of heat, pressure, and flammable liquids. That, along with the legal ramifications, is why I don’t do it.)

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