By Sandy Eller
I promised myself it wouldn’t happen again this year, but sadly it did.
After spending four hours at the 2015 Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE), the annual bash featuring a seemingly endless array of wines, spirits, and ultra-yummy things from innovators in the kosher-food business, I came home, checked my Twitter feed and Facebook, and realized that other people were posting about fabulous items that I should have tried but didn’t.
This year, I figured I was going to do better, but five minutes after I sat down at my desk, I was once again kicking myself for those opportunities I suddenly realized I had missed.
Allow me to backtrack a little. It’s been ten years since Royal Wine Corp. (makers of Kedem) launched the first KFWE, and Royal runs several of these shows throughout the world. While the New York show may be the biggest, there are KFWEs also held in Los Angeles, London, Miami, Paris, and Tel-Aviv. As the event has grown in popularity, it has fast become one of the hottest tickets in town, with the New York show typically selling out, as it did this year.
The New York KFWE is divided into two separate events. The daytime portion of the show is open to credentialed media and members of the trade, and it features wine, liquor, and a selection of foods. The second, taking place in the early evening and into the night, has no hard liquor but offers serious quantities of food from local restaurants and other producers of all things delicious. This portion of the KFWE is open to anyone willing to hand over $125 per person for the evening, and those who want to beat the crowds can get in a full hour earlier with pricier VIP tickets.
While I am sure that guests at this year’s KFWE, held Monday night, February 29, at Pier 60 in Chelsea, had a wonderful evening enjoying the gourmet food fest; but for me, as a member of the media, KFWE is an opportunity to see what is new and interesting in the wonderful worlds of wine and schnapps.
From my experiences, there are three different ways you can do KFWE properly. You can walk around the room tasting dozens of bottles of wine and liquor and then delicately spit into the shiny urns at every table–something I cannot bring myself to do for quite a few reasons. You can taste a few well-chosen bottles and then head for the food in order to make sure that you keep your wits about you–my personal preference for an event like this. Or, like one entertaining gentleman I met who tried to convince me that the label of a particularly well-known bottle of kosher wine features a hidden image of a popular female rapper, you can just drink glass after glass and get completely plastered. For the record, I don’t recommend that last option either.
Which products caught my eye this year? Kedem’s newly launched box wines, available in space-saving packaging that manages to squeeze 1.5 liters of wine into a package that is smaller than the traditional 750 milliliter bottle of wine. With a convenient side-pour spout, both the Chen(in) a box and Zin(in) a box are 2014 dry wines (Chenin Blanc and Red Zinfandel, respectively); they are expected to be on store shelves in the near future, and should also be priced lower than their bottled counterparts.
By now, you have probably seen BuzzBallz, a perennial mishloach manos favorite that mixes fruit juices with vodka, rum, or tequila. These deceptively cute little orbs pack a 30-proof wallop and come in 15 flavors, with fun names like Lotta Colada, Forbidden Blue, and the company’s bestseller, Tequila ‘Rita. Joining the BuzzBallz family are the larger sized Shooterz, a 750-milliliter mixed drink made with either vodka or tequila that comes with a cap that doubles as a shot glass, so you can down those 60-proof shots even faster without wasting precious seconds looking for a glass. While the ginger-tinged Jalapeno Lime sounds like an interesting combination, the Chocolate Caramel Cake, which won double gold at last year’s San Diego Spirits Festival, definitely seemed like the most interesting option to me.
By far one of the most interesting people I spoke with at KFWE was David Sheurich, whose smiling face adorns the tag of every bottle of Boondocks American Whiskey. A retired general manager and distiller at Woodford Reserve, Sheurich was awarded the Whiskey Advocate magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, and it doesn’t take more than two minutes of conversation to realize that this is a man who is passionate about whiskey. That enthusiasm translates into Boondocks, which ages for 11 years in bourbon barrels before being bottled. While Sheurich, a master distiller, was eager for me to sample both his regular 95-proof American Whiskey and the 127-proof Cask-Strength American Whiskey so I could compare and contrast the two varieties, I declined, settling for just a small taste of the latter, with Sheurich amiably quizzing me on what flavors I could detect–a test I likely flunked miserably.
Amid all of the wine and liquor were some really fine eats, with gorgeous pastrami babkas, oxtail and beef-cheek nachos topped with a green chili sauce, pulled smoked sliders, and both Polish and Texas chilis from an assortment of well-known names, including Pomegranate, Gemstone Catering, Red Heifer, Wandering Que, and Got Cholent? I was particularly impressed with those who used wine and spirits in their cooking, like Silverleaf Caterers, whose beef stew was flavored with hints of chocolate and coffee as well as a healthy dose of Ireland’s famed Guinness stout.
If I had to pick one product to win a best-in-show award, it would have to be an entire line prepared especially for the show by Premier Ice Cream Confections. A new entry into the frozen-dessert business, Premier supplies caterers and party planners with specialty sorbets and ice cream, and they wowed the crowd with spiked frozen treats. There were four different wine-based sorbets made with Herzog and Bartenura wines, including Jeunesse, Zinfandel, and Moscato, as well as Morad’s excellent passionfruit wine; each of the ones that I sampled was perfect in both texture and flavor while still having the subtle yet distinctive kick of alcohol. Equally delicious was the chocolate Zinfandel ice cream–a pairing I never would have imagined that turned out to be insanely good.
My one regret for the afternoon? I neglected to taste Premier’s vanilla-and-orange Muscat ice cream, which I have no doubt is like a creamsicle gone wild, in the best possible way. Looks like I am going to have to put that one on my to-do list for KFWE 2017, which will be full of lots of fun new products just waiting to make their way onto store shelves near you.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at email@example.com.