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No. 209 Makes Its First Vodka, and It's Kosher

No. 209 Makes Its First Vodka and It's Kosher

Because man cannot live on Manischewitz alone, No. 209, which has been making gin on Pier 50 for over 10 years, released its first vodka this month — and just in time for Passover. Because “leavened,” including fermented, grains are forbidden during the eight-day festival (hence the unleavened bread) 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.

San Francisco’s own 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.

While it seems intuitive that vodka made from grapes or potatoes would also suffice, because the distilleries that make these products may also make grain-based spirits, they are not deemed worthy (those particles tend to float around and then the next thing you know, you’ve accidentally broken your covenant with God). 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, 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 around the city.