In 1999, Napa Valley wine producer and entrepreneur Leslie Rudd (Rudd Oakville Estate and Dean & Deluca) discovered an old distillery just off the Silverado Trail on one of his vineyard properties. Established in St. Helena way back in 1882, the distillery was the 209th to get a permit in the U.S. Why not revive it to make small-batch gin? thought Rudd.
And so he got the distillery going again and decided to call it simply Distillery 209. Rudd's No. 209 Gin is intensely aromatic, with citrus notes, plenty of juniper and other botanicals — the equivalent of a big, bold Cabernet. In other words, not a bit shy. It makes an intense martini and can be found behind the bar at some of L.A.’s best drinking establishments. In fact, I'm planning on sitting back on Sunday night with a dry No. 209 martini to watch the first episode of Season 5 of Mad Men.
But as of a couple of years ago, it also has a fraternal kosher twin called No. 209 Kosher-for-Passover Gin. Rudd and his "ginerator" Arne Hillesland couldn’t use the exact formulation as their original model (the cardamom used in No. 209 gin isn’t kosher, for example, nor is any grain-based spirit). Instead, after much experimentation, Hillesland managed to achieve a similarly aromatic profile by employing a slightly different combination of herbs and other elements. The kosher version is based on juniper from Tuscany, plus eight or more botanicals that adhere to kosher dietary law. These include bergamot orange from Calabria, Italy, California bay leaf, lemon peel from Spain, cassia bark from Indonesia, angelica root from Britain and coriander seeds from Romania.
Those who keep kosher will appreciate that Kosher-for-Passover exists at all. The rest of us will appreciate it for what it is: a different, but equally valid, expression of gin.
I can see a test martini in the near future.
No. 209 Gin, $34.99 for 750m1 bottle. No. 209 Kosher-for-Passover Gin, $37.99. Available at wine and liquor stores.
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-- S. Irene Virbila
Photos: No. 209 Kosher-for-Passover Gin. Credit: S. Irene Virbila/Los Angeles Times