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Toasting the New Year

by Sara / August 29, 2010

created at: 2010-08-29

While an integral part of the secular New Year, toasts are not traditionally part of the Rosh Hashanah table. Passover and Purim are known for their related alcoholic beverages. Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, has its kabbalistic seder with an accompanying set of four glasses of different-colored wine, but the New Year of the World? Not a toasting holiday in my experience.

When David Levy asked about cocktails for Rosh Hashanah, though, I immediately thought of combining the tradition of toasting other new years of the year with that of the simanim, foods traditionally connected to good luck in the new Jewish year.

Right away, I shot into brainstorm mode, coming up with an extensive list of beverages, both alcoholic and “virgin” that could be used as bases and mixers. Enticing a small group of adventurous taste testers with the dubious promise of beet-infused vodka, we got to work mixing. And mixed and mixed and mixed.

created at: 2010-08-29

While there are many options out there, I tried to keep things as local as possible. Here is a sampler of some of the resulting concoctions:

Honey Warmer

Equal parts honey bourbon and calvados. For a dairy meal, pre-dip the rim of the glass in caramel.

Reactions: This drink divided on the honey bourbon line. Honey bourbon, which I first discovered in researching this article, is bourbon infused with honey in the distillation process. Enthralled with the smooth and rich texture and flavor, I am slowly learning that not everyone is as enamored of its features.

The Pomegranate Sunrise

created at: 2010-08-29

Pour a small amount of pomegranate paste into a chilled martini glass. Top with mead. Pre-stir to your desired level of sunrise. (A riff from ADM, who also took the accompanying photo.)

Reactions: This one requires some stirring to integrate the pomegranate paste into the overall drink. He suggests that layered drinks with grenadine or juice would work better with a lighter alcohol.

Pumped up Pomegranate

Mix pomegranate juice and pomegranate seltzer (ex. Polar brand) to taste. Serve in a glass over ice.

Reactions: What’s not to like? For an added kick, dress up with a garnish of gummy fish or a honey swizzle stick.

Sweet Year

Mix equal parts cider, mead, and vodka.

Reactions: This drink, from G., a former restaurant professional, was declared well-balanced. At this point, I decided to leave mixing to the cognoscenti.

See below for a complete list of ingredients and ideas. A few lessons learned: 

  • Different people will like different things; if you would like to toast the new year via the simanim, assign guests to bring pitchers of different types of cocktails so that people can sample around the table.
  • Offer a prize to anyone who develops a good drink incorporating fenugreek.
  • Unless your ideal beverage is bright orange and full of artificial flavorings, there is no good pumpkin liquor. According to my very knowledgeable liquor store staff, pumpkin-based beers tend to be available around the end of August/beginning of September.
  • Use small local carrots as stirrers or garnish; do not try to infuse in alcohol!
  • Oh, and beet-infused vodka? When done wrong it tastes like dirt. Tip from the pros: unlike etrog vodka, beet vodka doesn’t benefit from using cheap vodka. Also, pre-taste your beets to make sure they are sweet, as your new year ought to be.

Full list:

  • Pomegranate seltzer: In this case, Worcester’s very own Polar seltzer. Light, with a pleasant acidic edge.
  • Sparkling cider: In this case, alcoholic from Boston-based Harpoon, very lightly carbonated.
  • Pomegranate juice: Always glad for an excuse to buy it!
  • Grenadine: In this case, Authentic Grenadine (OU), which is made from pomegranates.
  • Pomegranate molasses or paste: In this case, Sadaf Pomegranate Paste (Texas-K).
  • Pomegranate-flavored vodka: An intense taste of pomegranate in vodka form. If Rosh Hashanah falls late in the season, infuse your own!
  • Calvados: An apple brandy also reminiscent of rum in its flavor profile.
  • Mead: Wine made of fermented honey. Consistency of wine, tempered flavor of honey.
  • Honey bourbon: Bourbon infused with honey in the distillation process. Warm, sweet and full-bodied. There are at least three manufacturers with products on the market.

Symbolic food incorporated:

  • Beets: Red and yellow, respectively, chopped into pieces and infused into vodka distilled in our very own Somerville for three days, 2 pounds/liter.
  • Carrots: Chopped into pieces and infused into vodka distilled in our very own Somerville for three days, 2 pounds/liter.
  • Dates
  • Fish: In this case, Haribo Gummi Fish, available at the Butcherie.created at: 2010-08-29

Garnishes: Honey sticks, dates, beet curls, cinnamon sticks (note: cinnamon sticks can overpower a drink, as in the case of the one pictured here!).

Rim flavorings: Honey, pomegranate paste, caramel.

For the (dairy) caramel, over a high heat, cook one part water with two parts sugar and a splash of an acid such as lemon. I used Calvados instead, which worked well. When golden-brown, but not burnt, add room temperature or warm cream until you get the desired texture. Warm slightly if it goes hard. Add butter by the teaspoon if you would like a richer texture.

Things you could use, but we didn’t:

  • Pomegranate wine: available with Asian alcohols
  • Krupnik: Polish honey liquor
  • Leeks: would make great garnish or stirrers
  • Fish-shaped ice cubes: I recommend making these from pomegranate juice, as alcohol has a lower freezing point
  • Apple vodkas: Most looked to be of the artificial coloring and flavoring school of thought
  • Real apples, real pomegranate: It was too early in the season for either. They would make a great garnish, or sangria, or cut up an apple into a shot glass to serve your concoction.

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Virginia O'Possum
August 31, 2010

Also: Hard ciders and Drambuie!

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