Sukkah Hill Spirits’ Howard and Marni Witkin. (photo from sukkahhill.com)
There are any number of traditional Jewish holiday foods, but not nearly as many holiday-related beverages. Hands down, wine dominates. But, company has arrived. Two new – and already medal-winning – artisanal liqueurs will be a welcome addition to your table.
Los Angeles-based Sukkah Hill Spirits’ Etrog Liqueur and its Besamim Liqueur both won gold in the 2013 SIP awards: out of some 300 entries, Etrog was deemed the best fruit-based liqueur and Besamim the best herbal/botanical. Both liqueurs are kosher (including for Passover), gluten-free and made with no additives or stabilizers. Not only are they a pleasure to drink, they are aromatic as well – lemon and cloves, respectively. Take a sip of either, and a host of recipe possibilities come to mind.
When the Independent heard about Sukkah Hill liqueurs, the first question was whether we can get it in Canada.
“We will be in stores in Washington, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in the next few months, and have a list of stores that ship listed on our website,” responded Howard Witkin. “We are adding a number of new online retailers and will update the site as we put it together.”
Witkin’s wife and business partner Marni is the creative force behind these products. He refers to her as the “Taste Mistress” – “No barrel goes to bottling unless she has tasted it and approved it,” he said.
“Marni’s been making liqueur for almost 10 years,” he explained. “She started out making it for our own home, and to share with friends. Soon, she was making dozens of bottles at the request of friends all around the community. When we were approached by a local storeowner who suggested he could sell whatever we could make, we realized that we had a product that people really enjoyed, and which could become a new business.”
The inspiration to use etrogim came from the fate many of the fruit face after Sukkot – the compost.
“Marni wanted to do more with it than allow it languish after the holiday,” said Witkin. So important during the festivities, “it seemed like a waste to let its potential just fade away. So, we started bottling it.
“Besamim is based on a twist of a traditional spice mixture from Havdalah,” he continued. “Besamim at Havdalah gives an extra lift to your soul as Shabbat wanes. We wanted to tie into those wonderful family times and warm moments. Smell has such ties into memories and experiences. I feel the warmth and closeness of Havdalah and Shabbat every time I taste our Besamim liqueur.”
Transforming something done for pleasure into something commercial can sometimes diminish its enjoyment
“Because we make everything by hand, and use the same pure and simple ingredients and processes we started with, it still feels like a fun project,” said Witkin. “Just the barrels are a lot bigger, and there are thousands of bottles to label. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the creative process of putting together labels and art, and sharing what we are making with so many more people.”
Sukkah Hill Spirits’ website offers several drink ideas. In response to a request for food suggestions, Howard Witkin offered the following recipes, noting also that biscotti dipped in a glass of Besamim is delicious, as is either liqueur over ice cream or sorbet.
GRILLED TROUT WITH ETROG
Combine Etrog Liqueur, brown sugar, black pepper and tarragon vinegar. Marinate red trout fillet – skin on – for up to four hours.
Spray/brush the grill with olive oil. Cover the skin side of the fillets with a thick coating of olive oil and lay on the oiled grill. Leave in place until the top of the fish starts to become opaque. Shake a light rub of brown sugar and pepper over the trout, lightly mist with olive oil.
You should now be able to lift the fillet with a spatula from the skin and flip it over back onto the skin, which has remained on the grill. (The skin protects the trout from burning.) Drizzle the remaining marinade over the fish, sprinkle with brown sugar rub. Cook until flaky (a few extra minutes).
Variation: Drizzle soy sauce on the trout as it grills.
4 large carrots
3 medium yams
3 tbsp Besamim Liqueur
Cinnamon to taste (3-6 tsp)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange carrots and yams cut to size in a baking pan. Spoon liqueur over the carrots and yams and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake for 45 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
ETROG HONEY CAKE
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 cup clear honey
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup strongly brewed black tea, cooled to room temp.
3 large eggs
1/3 cup Etrog Liqueur
1 cup plus 2 tbsp applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
honey and Etrog Liqueur (approx. 1/2 cup each)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease three eight-by-four-inch loaf pans.
Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. In small bowl, combine honey with oil, then add to dry ingredients and whisk in remaining liquid ingredients. Mix thoroughly.
Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 45-55 minutes until cake springs back when lightly pressed and cake tester tests clean.
Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then poke all over with a skewer and very slowly spoon the honey/Etrog Liqueur mix over the cakes, allowing the liquid to thoroughly saturate them. When cool, remove from the pans. Wrapping and storing the cakes for a day improves the flavor.
When ready to serve, top with confectioners’ sugar if desired.
For more about Sukkah Hill Spirits, visit sukkahhill.com.