Cocktails in Yiddish might sound like the title of a comedy sketch, but it could not be more serious: the National Library has recently acquired a rare and beautifully illustrated Yiddish manuscript detailing the art of preparation and distillation of fine liquors.
The manuscript, entitled in translation Announcement of the Latest and Most beneficial Practical Art of Distillation and the Production of Liquor, includes general instructions on concocting alcoholic drinks and detailed recipes for a range of drinks, some of which appear on bar menus today.
In total there are over one hundred recipes in the anonymous, undated manuscript. The manuscript even contains a rudimentary drawing of an old-time distillery.
Why does such a book exist? Surprisingly, there was a significant tradition of Jews involved in both the production and sale of alcoholic beverages in Eastern Europe. Jews leased taverns and breweries from landed aristocracy. The production and sale of alcohol was a lucrative business, and the nobility preferred Jews to manage their taverns because the Jews were believed to be better businessmen. An 18th century census of the Jews of Poland indicated that approximately 80 percent of the Jews living in villages and 14 percent of those living in urban areas were involved in the production or sale of alcohol. By the 19th century, the image of a Jewish tavern-keeper was a common feature in Polish literature.
With the acquisition of this historical Yiddish “bartenders' guide,” the National Library can now make available an important document on a fascinating and little-known aspect of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. L’Chaim!