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Getting downright righteous for Purim this year

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Bottles

Bottles of David Hermelin's kosher craft liqueurs: Righteous Seven, The Fifth Cup (which is kosher for Passover) and Righteous Seven Barrel Reserve.

If you’re stocking your bar for a festive Purim celebration, which begins the evening of  Feb. 25, here’s a tip: Get a bottle of Righteous Seven liqueur. The award-winning spirit is inspired by the Old Testament and manufactured right here in the St. Louis area.

Righteous Seven is a premium blend of alcohol, flavored with seven species of plants found in the book of Deuteronomy, which praises the attributes of Israel as “a land with wheat and barley, fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” Grapes represent the seventh flavor in the mix.

The formula was developed by David Hermelin, founder of Righteous Road Craft Spirits. After a career in the pharmaceutical industry, Hermelin was searching for a new challenge when he saw the popularity of bourbon, rye and craft beer, so he set his sights on an untapped market: kosher spirits.

David Hermelin

David Hermelin is shown with the barrels used to age Hermelin's Righteous Seven Barrel Reserve liqueur. Photo: Bill Motchan

“The kosher market was not really that creatively serviced,” said Hermelin, 54. “The market for Righteous Seven in the Jewish world is really a perfect fit. And you don’t have you have to be Jewish to enjoy it. There are a lot of Christians this really resonates with. It’s that Judeo-Christian background relating to the meaning of the land of Israel and the foods and fruits and the grains. But the low-hanging fruit is the Jewish market and that’s what I saw I could get into quickly.”

The challenge for Hermelin was coming up a marketable product with a unique flavor. It’s a painstaking trial-and-error process that took a full year to achieve the perfect blend.

“I worked with a distiller in Kansas City and we started doing experiments and we made each one of these fruits separately,” Hermelin said. “Then we tasted it and put it together. There was a period of experimentation and different ratios, different alcohol percentages and different sugar percentages.

“The nice thing about this is it’s not an aged product. You have to age a bourbon or rye or a scotch. That takes a long time and it’s expensive. The reward is great if you can do it, but I wasn’t going to invest at that level in the beginning.”

Righteous Seven is now available in about 80 markets in Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Florida and California. It has quickly developed a loyal following and steady business. That has been a tougher task during the pandemic as many bars have closed and liquor store tastings disappeared. Despite those challenges, Righteous Seven has captured prestigious awards including best fruit liqueur at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits.

Hermelin brews and bottles Righteous Seven just across the river in Columbia, Ill. at Stumpy’s Spirits Distillery. That’s also where Righteous Barrell Reserve liqueur is aged. Both Righteous brands sport a distinctive label with the seven species of flavors that make up its unique taste. The flavor embodies all seven ingredients but isn’t overly sweet. It works well as a mixer or straight up.

The spirit also represents a new option for mixologists, according to Jonathan Levy, who helms the bar at the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis.

“Righteous Seven is a wonderful cocktail ingredient,” said Levy, 30. “It’s similar in style to an amaro, and it functions very well in any drinks that incorporate those flavors. “It has a bittersweet, herbal, and complex character that lends itself very well to drinks that emphasize these qualities. I enjoy it on the rocks, with some sweet vermouth and topped with a splash of club soda.”

The Righteous Seven label is as striking as the contents. That was a deliberate decision to stand out in a crowded field of spirits on store shelves, Hermelin said.

“It’s not a standard bottle—it’s a flat face,” he said. “So there’s a lot of real estate on this bottle. I wanted a large face so that I could show the placement of these fruits that mimic the sefirot of the tree of life, including kindness, strength and beauty. I wanted that to be presented in a certain way and this bottle gave me that opportunity.” 

Next up for Righteous Road later this month is a brand new liqueur known as The Fifth Cup. It contains no wheat or grains and is kosher for Passover. The decision to expand the product line with The Fifth Cup was to fill a void in the market. 

“This new liqueur will be something great for Passover and year-round,” Hermelin said. “It will have dates and figs and apricots and almonds and pistachios. So it's a new direction. The market for liquor on Passover is limited because you can’t have bourbon or anything with wheat. A lot of products are made with grain and are non-starters for people to keep those the rules of Passover. So the  craft spirits market is almost nil on Passover.” 

When he’s not concocting new liqueurs, Hermelin serves as president of Agudas Israel. It’s a role where his business background comes in handy. That is echoed by Agudas’ leader Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt. 

David Hermelin

David Hermelin is shown next to a distilling tank used to produce his new kosher for Passover liqueur, The Fifth Cup. Photo: Bill Motchan

“David it is really a unique individual,” Greenblatt said. “He’s very bright, very industrious, extremely caring, compassionate and sensitive. He combines a lot of a lot of character traits very much the way that Righteous Seven combines seven different species into a beautiful blend.” 

Greenblatt said Hermelin and his wife Daniela (a SLUCare physician) have helped the congregation navigate the challenges of COVID-19.

“David is just there every step along the way and really he is a rabbi’s dream as a president. “I’ve turned to him so many ways over a good number of years now,” Greenblatt said. “David and his wife have guided us and they’ve been there in a very assuring way but in a very firm way in terms of helping us maintain our safety and our health throughout this whole ordeal. We’ve had to convene services off-site in the gymnasium of a public school and that required a lot of logistics. 

“And I’m a fan of David’s craft in Righteous Seven because I'm a fan of David’s. It’s no surprise to me that when he puts his hand to something, he’s successful. David Hermelin may have created Righteous Seven but he is a righteous one.”