Ten years of public administration and local government work was interesting preparation for my happy switch to my current job at a kosher whisky distillery in Virginia.

Catoctin Creek Distilling Company is one of only a few kosher distilleries in the world. Located in Purcellville, VA, the company makes two rye whiskies, a modern-style gin and several fruit brandies from locally grown fruit and locally made wine. With one exception, all of our spirits are Star-K certified kosher, and most of them are also USDA certified organic.

Why organic? Organic spirits are free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that could come through in the distillation process. Why kosher? Both standards require rigorous testing and inspections. Both standards have restrictions on additives and equipment cleaners. Both have a link to tikkun olam, healing the world.

Catoctin Creek is a zero-waste production facility. We recycle and reuse materials and equipment to keep our trash down. We have also just installed solar panels on the roof of our brand new “recycled” historic building to help lower our reliance on fossil fuels.

Honey Cake cocktailFrom about age six until age twelve, I fell asleep each night reading one of three books, out of routine, if nothing else: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Facts & Fun about the US Presidents or A First Jewish Holiday Cookbook. My mother is a wonderful cook, and she prepared most of our meals as I was growing up. My grandmothers were both good cooks, with traditional Jewish dishes like kreplach and stuffed cabbage in their regular repertoire. Both the nightly reviews of that holiday cookbook and my mom’s kitchen lessons made me appreciate food preparation and its ties to our religious and family traditions.

However, I had no such upbringing when it came to spirits. Learning how to drink was not easy. No, I’m not talking about secret drinking in high school or college parties. I’m talking about true cocktail tasting, the kind of knowledge you can really only get from careful tasting over and over. My parents used to go through one six-pack of light beer a year, so they were no help.

In my previous professional life, my former colleagues not only introduced me to drinking fine Kentucky bourbons, but they brought me to several distilleries around the state. When I heard about a distillery close to home three years ago, and kosher to boot, I had to check it out. I now read books on cocktail history, distillation and food preparation.

There are only so many new drink creations you can try in an evening. After a certain point, everything starts to taste the same. That’s the right time to switch to water or seltzer…and wake up feeling happy the next day. Remember, we’re supposed to imbibe and enjoy our holiday traditions, but drinking too much is no fun. Creating these signature JFE cocktails, however, definitely was!