During Passover, Jews are forbidden to eat five grains: wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. Many traditional Jews of Eastern European descent also do not eat “kitniyot” during Passover, which include legumes, rice, corn and soy beans. For a drink to be kosher for Passover, it must not contain any of these ingredients, and for strictly observant Jews, it must be certified kosher for Passover by a kashrut authority.
Wine does not contain any prohibited grains, so it is kosher for Passover by its nature. In fact, Jews drink it at four different points in the Passover seder. A strictly observant Jew will choose wines that have been certified by an authority as kosher for Passover, such as Manischewitz, the most familiar brand of seder wine. Manischewitz is very sweet, and people who prefer a drier wine may choose to look elsewhere. Food and Wine recommends Château Malartic-Lagravière for a red wine, Yarden Odem Chardonnay for white and NV Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut for champagne.
Unlike wine, beer is not usually kosher for Passover. It is brewed from barley or wheat, which are among the five forbidden grains. It is possible, though, to find kosher for Passover beers. Ramapo Valley Brewery in New York makes a wheat-free, barley-free beer from fermented honey which is certified for use on Passover. This brew is unusual, though, and Jews do not normally drink any variety of beer during Passover.
Many kinds of liquor are made from grains or from corn, making them unsuitable for use on Passover. With sufficient ingenuity, though, brewers are able to adjust their recipes for the holiday. Distillery No. 209 in San Francisco makes a kosher gin for Passover, using sugar-cane alcohol instead of grain alcohol and replacing forbidden flavorings with acceptable herbs. Slivovitz plum brandy is common at seders. Crystal Head Vodka is kosher for Passover, as is Casa Noble Tequila.
Sodas and fruit juices are usually not kosher for Passover, unless they are made especially for the holiday. Most soft drinks are sweetened with corn syrup, and since Eastern European Jews don’t eat corn on Passover, they are therefore not Passover certified. Sodas also often contain grain alcohol in small amounts as a food coloring. Kosher for Passover sodas are available–Coke and Pepsi use special Passover recipes in the spring–and kosher companies like Kedem and Manischewitz sell Passover-certified fruit juices.
References and ResourcesNational Jewish Outreach Program: Passover Preparations
"Food and Wine": Top 5 Kosher Wines for Passover; Megan Krigbaum; April 2011
Ramapo Valley Brewery: Honey Beer
"San Francisco Chronicle": S.F. Distillery Produces First Kosher-for-Pesach Gin; March 20, 2010
The Pour Pro: Ultra-Premium Kosher Spirits for Passover Celebrations; April 11, 2011
Kashrut.com: Kashrus/Passover and Modern Food Processing; Arlene Mathes-Scharf