Understanding another culture can be difficult. We all have stereotypes of different cultures through how they are portrayed in the media, which provides us with an easily digestible image of what people who are different from us are like. Exploring even small aspects of a culture can be a major undertaking. A simple question can lead you to find new things you have never considered when even attempting a small gesture to the community. This is where a guy from Dayton ended up when he started to consider creating a kosher cocktail for Hanukkah.
While the major focus at this time of year is Christmas, it is not the only holiday that has a slightly different set of culinary traditions. Hanukkah occupies eight days of this festive season. Based on the Hebrew calendar, it is eight days of the season because it can begin as early as Thanksgiving (which it did in 2013) or as late as December 24th (as is did in 2016). Holidays tend to bring out a better effort to be faithful to your group or religion. I have heard many friends of mine who are Catholic refer to “C and E” Catholics. They are ones that show up to church at Christmas and Easter, and no other time of the year. They make their efforts during the high holy points of the Christian calendar. It is not limited to Catholics; there are those of other faiths that do it as well. For this article I spoke with Jewish people that made sure all of the bacon grease was cleaned off their utensils for high holidays to those that had separate kitchens for the preparation of meat and dairy. And you know what? That is not as uncommon as you would think.
What is kosher, exactly? Kosher to Jewish people means “ritually fit.” Kosher food is broken down into three general types: meat, dairy, and pareve. Parve (or pareve, “neutral” in Hebrew) includes fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and eggs. The chorus of “But eggs come from animals!” is a great observation, but one that has been addressed. Since eggs are not part of the animal, they are considered a separate food. And it is well established in Judaic and Christian tradition that fish is a different meat than fowl or cattle. Meat and dairy cannot be mixed at a meal. Depending on how the laws are interpreted, up to six hours must pass after a meal with dairy in it before a meal with meat can be consumed.
This ban on intermingling of food goes well beyond the meal. It goes all the way back to where and how they are processed. Food that is processed on machines that may have had meat or dairy on them cannot make kosher products. They can’t touch in the fridge when you store them, or come in contact with the steam when you cook them, or the dishwasher when you clean them. If you cook a roast in the oven, it has to be fully cleaned before a cake can be baked in it. Making something that is kosher goes well beyond the right ingredients. It gets into every nook and cranny of the process. To really make something kosher, there is work you have to do before you even start to reach for ingredients.
If you are gentile, as I am, meat and milk have been mixed all over your kitchen. The first thing you have to do to really prepare something koser is clean your kitchen. Give every cooking, cleaning, and preparation surface a thorough scrubbing. You must especially include the utensils you are going to use. Then wait a full day to let all of that cleanliness soak in and the unclean elements to be purged. Unfortunately, some things cannot be cleansed. Porcelain, ceramics, and any other earthenware products are permanently tainted. They are porous, so there is no way to know everything has been removed. When it comes to glass, there is a labyrinth of rules to be observed. Glass is made of earth, so may be considered porous. However, it is non-porous in most applications. The biggest issue with glass being kashered comes from science, not tradition. Since heat was involved in creating the impurity, heat must be involved in removing it. Glass does not always do well in heat, which can cause a problem when it is being purified for use. So to be truly kosher, a whole other set of glass and earthenware specifically for dairy only must come into use that is kept in a separate cabinet from the others.
Once the 24 hours after cleaning is up, it is time to do the hard work. The final step in purifying utensils and vessels for cooking and cocktail-making is through heat. There are four types of heat that can be used to do this. Libun gamur requires the metal pieces to be heated until they are red hot. This requires a blowtorch and a lot of nerve. More common in homes is libun kal, which just requires an object be hot enough to set a broom straw or paper on fire. This is one you can do in your home for pots and pans. Hag’alah can be done by fully immersing the utensil in boiling water, then rinsing it under cold water. For metal sinks and other immovable pieces, irui can be performed by pouring boiling water over the surface. As you can see, all of these methods involve some sort of preparation and a large amount of heat.
To make a cocktail that was truly kosher, there was work to be done. I cleaned the top of my glass-top stove as well as I could, and left it for a day. I also had cleaned all the utensils I was going to use for the cocktail I had in mind. The next day, I started the heating treatment. I turned up the heat on the burner I was going to use until it was as hot as was instructed. The paper burned nicely, so I knew I had at least one clean burner. If you have a glass-top stove, only the burner areas will be clean. Putting a blowtorch to the other areas of the stove is not advisable; I have seen what too much heat will do to a glass stovetop. It is expensive, and the shattering sound will make you jump. The pot I was going to use was kashered by boiling water in it then discarding the unclean water. I then filled the pot back up and brought it back to a boil to kasher all of the utensils. Knives with two parts can’t be kashered, nor is it a good idea to kasher knives with plastic handles. There is too much risk of damage. My mixing tins, jiggers, spoons, and juicer all went into the pot. The water has to be boiling when the utensil goes in. Without a rolling boil, the piece does not get clean. I pulled each piece out with boiled tongs, rinsed them under cold water, then set them to dry on a towel until I needed them.
Remember, we are this far and have not even discussed kosher liquors and mixers.
As far as kosher from a liquor perspective, I will point you to Amanda Schuster’s article on that topic. It is much more charming and wise than what I would write about the topic. You can also explore the Chicago Rabbinical Council’s liquor list, which is incredibly comprehensive. Generally speaking, avoid wine or anything wine based, like brandy or vermouth. The rules for fit wine are strict, with meshuval (“boiled”) wines being recommended. Many amari, or any bitters, do not make the cut. Once you get to better known spirits like gin and whiskey, you need to pay attention to labels. Anything aged in wine casks, including sherry or port, is not going to work. Neither is anything that has artificial flavor added to it, like most of the flavored vodkas and whiskies out there. To be extremely safe with any ingredient you use, look for a U with a circle around it on the package. That means it is certified kosher, passes inspection from a sabbath-observing rabbi and safe to add.
With all of these restrictions in mind, an almond flavored Hanukkah cocktail was starting to come together. There is a restriction with mixing liquor and milk together in a cocktail, but with some research and help with friends on Facebook, it was established that the right almond milk could be used. This means it is certified kosher parve (pareve) with an OU, or star K symbol or homemade in a kosher kitchen. Disaronno is on the approved list of liqueurs. And while I would have loved to do something with the egg cream, it did inspire a look into another cocktail for my basic template: the Ramos Gin Fizz. With all of this exploration, I came up with the idea of the Rugelach Fizz.
1 oz./30 mL unflavored vodka (kosher preferable, such as Smirnoff)
1 oz./30 mL Disaronno Amaretto
.5 oz./15 mL almond milk
.5 oz./15 mL lemon juice
.5 oz./15 mL lime juice
.75 oz./22 mL honey syrup
3 dashes orange flower water
1 medium egg white*
Garnish: piece of rugelach, optional
Pour all of the ingredients except the soda water into a mixing tin over ice. Shake well for two to three minutes. Strain the mix into the empty half of the mixing tin and discard the ice. Shake for another two to three minutes, then pour into the collins glass. Add about .5 oz./ 15 mL to 1 oz./ 30 mL of soda water for the fizz, then serve.
*A note about the egg: break it into a white bowl or cup before adding it to the cocktail. The prohibition about meat includes blood. There are rare instances when there are blood spots in the egg. That would break the separation of meat and dairy. If you see one in the egg, discard that egg, find a new kosher bowl and try again.
Remember, all of the advice in this article is written by a man that is not Jewish. If you have questions about anything in the article, ask a rabbi. There are discrepancies between some sources, and I want you to be comfortable that you are serving clean food. When you plan for making kosher cocktails for the upcoming Hanukkah holiday, go deeper than something with a blue hue or based on the popular jelly-filled sufganiyot. It may be time-consuming to make a completely kosher cocktail, but the effort that you put into it for those of the faith will be worth it. You will not only come out with a real exercise in creativity, you will have a better understanding of the people for whom you are mixing it. Happy Hanukkah! L’chaim!
Brian Petro, a native of the great state of Ohio, found himself in the town of Dayton after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art. His path has wound through the design, education, and restaurant industries, all of them adding a little something to the overall flavor of his creative endeavors. The first time he stepped behind a bar, it felt like home. Ever since, he has absorbed all of the liquor knowledge he can find, from culture to history to recipes, and done his best to share what he knows with the world. Or, at least the readers of Dayton Most Metro, where he is the writer about all things cocktail. He also likes the word “Brilliant” too much and appreciates the beauty of winter more than most. Follow him @SmartGuyInATie.