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.