Celebrating Hanukkah with Traditional Foods & Drink Pairings
By Halle Cook Published November 2020
For some, the holiday season is represented by the smells of peppermint and cookies baking in the oven to serve to Santa Claus, but for others, we wait all year to hear the crackle of oil as our potato pancakes crisp up to a fried goodness. We watch eagerly as our Bubbi fills the powdered donuts with various fruity jams and peer into the oven while the sweet, cinnamon smell of kugel wafts through the air. The kids are spinning the dreidel and unwrapping presents while adults celebrate their favorite way - with spirits.
You can upgrade your Hanukkah menu this year by pairing your delicious delights with wines, brews and cocktails. We turned to my brother Jason, a rabbinical student in his final year of seminary, for insights about why we choose to honor the holiday in this manner.
The traditional Jewish foods consumed during the festival of Hannukah all play a significant, symbolic role. Hannukah is celebrated to commemorate a miracle witnessed by the Jewish people long ago. It is said that when they went to ignite their eternal light after a great tragedy, there was only enough oil to last one night. However, that little bit of oil ended up lasting eight days and eight nights, just in time for people to have returned with more oil. In order to honor this great miracle, we celebrate by making food fried in oil and by raising a glass with a proud L’Chaim which means, “To life.”
Chocolate Gelt and Rum
A Hanukkah celebration isn’t complete without a game of dreidel and, for that, you’ll need a collection of chocolate gelt. Nothing brings people together quite like bickering over chocolate pieces won by the luck of a spinning top. Add some spirits, and you’ve got a memorable night. Rum tends to highlight flavors like butterscotch and caramel which is brought out when joined by cocoa, making it a delightful pairing. If you’re spinning the dreidel with a rum cocktail in hand, you’ll be winning no matter what. Jason says, “A big reason Jewish holidays are celebrated with drinks is that there’s something about enjoying the human experience that is elevated with alcohol. It brings people together in a way that simply celebrates the beauty of community, which is an important pillar of Judaism.”
Try whipping up a spiced apple cider or a Papa’s orchard for you and your guests to enjoy. These cocktails feature dark rum and cider, which will highlight the sweet, creaminess of your chocolate choice. The little spice of cinnamon added by the cider will make sure the richness isn't overwhelming, while the rum and chocolate light up your mouth.
Sufganiyot (Jelly-Filled Donuts) and Beer
Who doesn’t love a good donut and beer? This simple combination will bring out all the fabulous flavors in both the food and drinks when thoughtfully paired. We recommend enjoying a stout or porter alongside a donut filled with jelly in the center. The coffee and chocolate notes that beers, like Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro and Founder’s Breakfast Stout, exhibit help balance the acidity of the jelly, while the dry finishes work in harmony with the sweetness of the donut. Guiness Draught lends itself to creating a good partnership as well with its dark colors and light hops. The bittersweet finish will help cut through that extra powdered sugar you may add. Are you a PB&J fan? Try Brew Link Nuttercup Peanut Butter Porter. This beer is slightly sweeter and provides a wonderful peanut butter flavor that makes this combination a duo that can’t be beat.
Latkes and Bourbon
Latkes are one of the most traditional foods to enjoy during Hanukkah. More commonly known as “potato pancakes,” they are mouthwatering, fried potato patties. This festive treat is as Jewish as bourbon is American, and pairing these two together brings out all the best flavors in each. Latkes are often served with a side of applesauce and sour cream. With this in mind, you’ll want to lean towards a drink that will work in harmony with your dip of choice. Fried potatoes and sour cream are the more savory choice, which we favor matching with a sweeter cocktail. Try an option like Jim Beam vanilla smash. This vanilla bourbon with lemon and mint will round out your palate, allowing you to highlight each component you are enjoying. If applesauce is the correct answer to your latke side, consider a cocktail like an apple bourbon smash. This cocktail matches the flavors delivered in the applesauce with an apple flavored bourbon, honey and cinnamon. If you like to stray a little out of the box with your latke traditions, check out our other bourbon cocktail recipes to find the perfect pairing for your table.
Brisket and Red Wine
Brisket isn’t necessarily a traditional food for the holiday of Hannukah, but take it from me, if there is an excuse to make one...do it. This delicious meal is a common dish for many other Jewish holidays. Not only is it naturally kosher and has a cooking process which upholds a variety of traditions, but it is a large cut of meat that can easily feed the whole extended family. Our drink choice with this fan favorite dinner is a classic pairing, red wine. Red wines help bring out the rich juices in the meat and cut through some of the fat. Wine is also a very popular drink used by the Jewish people to commemorate occasions.
Jason explains, “We celebrate Hannukah and other holidays with alcohol, particularly wine, because it is a symbol of joy and happiness. There are many Jewish celebrations in which we are obligated by our teachings to ‘celebrate and be happy’ (like a wedding), and in all of these occasions you honor that with a blessing over wine.” The varietal you choose to pair with your dinner should be mostly based on your desired flavor palate. If you have a favorite red that delights the whole table, stick with that. However, if you are looking to branch out, we suggest basing it off how you are choosing to prepare your brisket. For a hearty, braised brisket, we recommend trying a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon that will cut through the heaviness of fat, while Merlots complement a slow-cooked and smoked cut.
Sweet Kugel and Pear Cardamom Sangria
In addition to the religious aspects of Hanukkah, Jason says the holiday is also used to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Jewish people gather around lit candles and observe the warmth coming from the flames. And while these candles keep us toasty on the outside, we choose sweet, cinnamon kugel and a tasty cocktail like the pear cardamom sangria to heat our insides. This cocktail features Fetzer Gewurtztraminer, pear brandy and ginger beer, while a typical sweet kugel is a noodle bake with ingredients like eggs, cinnamon and butter or a soft cheese. Many recipes have the option of adding raisins or nuts for an extra crunch. The pear flavors and apple cider highlighted in this batch cocktail will pair nicely with the cinnamon in the kugel while the orange slices add a touch of acidity to cut through some of the richness in the dish. Looking for other cocktail options to enjoy along with your family's favorite kugel recipe? Check out these holiday cocktail recipes featuring various spirits and flavors to warm your tastebuds.
Pricing, selection and vintages may vary by location.