S.F. Distillery Produces First Kosher-for-Pesach Gin Under the OU


gin-pesachJon Bonné reports in the San Francisco Chronicle: The Passover seder calls for four glasses of wine, not liquor. But should the observant need something quicker, a San Francisco distillery has come to the rescue. Distillery No. 209 has formulated what it believes to be the first kosher-for-Passover gin.

Many spirits are kosher, but religious laws banning the consumption of grains (and sometimes legumes) during Passover’s eight days severely hampers the post-seder bar cart because most liquor has a base of corn or wheat. This problem isn’t unique to booze; many products need reformulation. The Passover version of Coca-Cola, made with real sugar, provided a rare chance for corn-syrup haters to slake their thirst long before Mexican Coke. Gin could be made kosher for Passover, but not without some work.

“I learned a lot of things, I’ll tell you,” says Arne Hillesland, 209’s distiller.

In December, 209 owner Leslie Rudd and his daughter Samantha decided to pay tribute to their Jewish roots and to fill a missing niche on the Passover table. It soon became clear Hillesland would have to formulate an entirely new gin, a process that can take years. He had three weeks.

The entire production had to be watched over by a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor. First the winery needed a thorough cleaning with citric acid and hot water. Gin typically is distilled from neutral 190-proof grain alcohol; 209 uses corn ethanol from the Midwest (trucked in kosher-grade tankers, actually). Hillesland substituted a South African sugarcane-based alcohol.

Botanical flavorings, the soul of gin, took more effort. The koshering process required the oversight of Orthodox Union officials, who requested details on the sources of every ingredient – juniper from Italy, citrus from Morocco and so on. At one point, coriander was spread on a tablecloth so a rabbi could pick out detritus.

But cardamom, essential to 209’s recipe, was almost Passover gin’s downfall. The pods are forbidden because they must be grown in proximity to wheat, according to Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the Union’s kosher division. (Pickles also suffer because of this.) Hillesland finally substituted California bay leaf, picked from a grove next to Rudd’s Mount Veeder property.

The resulting gin? It’s slightly leaner in texture than the standard 209, with more subtle herbal aromas and more evident warm spice flavors. Different, but only slightly. It retails for $38 at such stores as Blackwell’s and Dean & Deluca.

What of gin’s role at Passover? The four seder cups (and the ceremonial fifth for the prophet Elijah) are wine, but spirits can be consumed at other times – including, Elefant says, as a separation between fish and meat courses during the meal, which maintains a requirement not to mix the two. In the past, options were limited to drinks like slivovitz, the European plum brandy.

“That’s how it was when I grew up,” Elefant says. “Now obviously the variety has expanded.”

As for the Passover martini, Kedem makes a Passover vermouth, its quality unverified. But you might just let your martini endure an extra-dry spell for eight days.

{SFGate.com/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. “What of gin’s role at Passover? . . . but spirits can be consumed at other times – including, Elefant says, as a separation between fish and meat courses during the meal.”

    Gin has NO role at Passover. If I want to clean my mouth “as a separation between fish and meat courses” a glass of wine, or even some pesachdike Coke, would be more than ample.

    I suppose that the management of Matzav will be using their (free) Distillery 209.

  2. With all the trouble we’re having with kids at risk and adults drinking too much, the last thing we need is another kosher type of booze.

    What’s wrong with good old-fashioned wine?

  3. Everyone needs to relax. I personally enjoy a nice gin, and to have the option to have some on Pesach is a nice treat. Thank you Matzav for reporting this story.