Do you know this one? A Russian traveler enters a tavern, dusts himself off from his long-journey and declares, “I’m tired and thirsty, I must have vodka.” Next, a German traveler enters and says, “I’m tired and thirsty, I must have beer.” A Scotsman enters: “I’m tired and thirsty, I must have whisky.”
A moment later, a short, disheveled, Jew enters the tavern. He dusts himself off, wipes the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, and says: “Oy! I’m tired and thirty. I must have diabetes.”
I thought of this joke again recently when I was asked for umpteenth time if there exists some authentically Jewish distilled spirit.’
The short answer, of course, is no. The Jews have tsuris, not hooch. What makes anything “Russian” or “German” or “Italian” or “French” or “Mexican”? It is in large measure the thing’s purported connection to the place. Until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jews as a people — distinct from whatever society an individual Jew may have been a citizen of — could not rightly point to any sort of stable Jewish sovereign geography at all.
So, no, there is no authentic Jewish hooch. That said, many Jews of Ashkenazi heritage, especially here in the United States, seem to have a certain nostalgia — especially with Pesach
rapidly approaching — for Slivovitz.
A distilled beverage made from fermented blue or Damson plums, Slivovitz is simply plum brandy. It is also something of an acquired taste.
“Tastes like a sharp slap in the face!” is how one friend likes to put it. “Repulsive!” is how another describes it.
While many a Slivovitz can indeed be rough on first approach, some distinctive and rather nice flavors lay just beyond the surface.
If your taste buds yearn for some, or you wish to see what all the fuss is about, here are my recommendations:
Maraska, Stara Sljivovica, Old Plum Brandy Slivovitz, Zadar, Croatia (Chief Rabbi of Croatia certified kosher for Passover; 40 percent abv; $25-28): Though the initial pungent, heavy nose is a bit overly fusel-oil like, leading to a somewhat rough palate of bitter plum skin and plum pit bite, beneath this are notes of candied plums and toasted almonds. Once you get past the initial attack on the senses, it calms, and then entertains with notes of lavender, ripe blackberries, blueberries, dark plums, and even something a little grapey, with hints of anise ad a peppery finish. It has bite, but also character.
Mosby, Kosher Plum Brandy, Slivovitz (certified kosher for Passover by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Los Angeles; 43.3 percent abv; $55): Made in California from locally sourced Damson plums, this potent, deeply flavorful Slivovitz seems closer in kinship to the more traditional Eastern European brands, but oh so much better. With heady aromas of pure plum, and more subtle notes of vanilla pudding, marzipan, overripe melon and a little pepperiness to tickle the palate, this Slivovitz is fruity, floral, medium-to-full bodied and surprisingly complex. The finish is a tad hot, but satisfyingly so.
Mosby, Kosher Plum Brandy, Native Pacific Plum (certified kosher for Passover by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Los Angeles; 40.95 percent abv; $75): This wild plum version is altogether an improvement on the already very nice Mosby Slivovitz, with greater complexity and elegance, and vibrant notes of fresh, sweet, ripe plums, ripe and overripe berries, lavender, marzipan and unsweetened ground almonds, and a little distinct pepperiness, with an absorbing, warm finish. Invigorating and refreshing, yet also contemplative. L’chaim! n
Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].