Sunday, July 25, 2010

Religious spirits

The Mad Hatter at the Beefeater opening at TOC
Many of us may know of the unusual connection between religious orders and the distillation process. Perhaps the best known of these is a product originally made by an abbey in Normandy that bears the name of their order, Benedictine. The Benedictine monks who made their herbal liqueur are not alone in the annals of history. Several other religious groups, like the Carthusians who first made Chartreuse liqueur, have also become famous for their impact on a handful of important libations. No less an authority than Southern Wine and Spirits' own Allen Katz, a Jewish former Baltimore resident, who now lives and works in New York, is ready to reveal all. Katz will be the star at one of the last seminars of the Tales of the Cocktail today, as the incredible series of events put on by the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society begins to wind down for 2010. Perhaps it is appropriate that such a seminar being given with beer expert Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery is held on a Sunday, the typical day of worship for members of the Christian faith. For Katz, though, his first connections to spirits and drinking in general came about through exposure to Friday night Kiddush and Saturday morning Kiddush which accompanied the conclusion of Jewish prayer services or the beginning of the Sabbath meal. Katz recalled his parents did like an occasional drink. "My impression is that they showed great trust in me and my sister and allowed us to grow up to have respect fro alcohol, but not a fear." So how does a nice Jewish boy get to know so much about Christian - and in particular - Catholic influences on the liquor industry? "I have been exposed to many Catholic orders as they have a monastic tradition of distilling (and brewing)," he explained. "Because of my role as an educator, I am often invited to visit distilleries (and)...have had the opportunity to visit monasteries that still produce their own alcohol for liqueurs or other prodcts as an economic and historic engine." What that means is that he gets to imbibe often as a means of more educated palate. Katz has overseen the growth of Southern Wine and Spirits of New York, which is today the single largest distributor of wines and spirits in the country. It was only natural that the company moved from Florida to New York during its more recent period of growth, even though the name may not be entirely correct in understanding its position vis-à-vis the Mason Dixon line. The fact is Katz's Jewish heritage started him down the road toward becoming a mover and shaker and an expert in the spirits industry. Religiously speaking, we should consider that today's seminar will prove there is more than one way to say "L'chaim."

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