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Sukkah Hill Spirits: The spirit of Sukkot

Howard Witkin sleeps only about three hours each night. He has a wife and four children, runs a life insurance company, is the lead organizer of the Los Angeles Community Eruv and has spent the last 14 months battling cancer.
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September 18, 2013

Howard Witkin sleeps only about three hours each night. He has a wife and four children, runs a life insurance company, is the lead organizer of the Los Angeles Community Eruv and has spent the last 14 months battling cancer.

Oh, and he and his wife, Marni, just released an etrog liqueur under the label of their new company, Sukkah Hill Spirits.

The citrus-flavored alcohol (the only one of its kind on the market) went on shelves at Glatt Mart, Cambridge Farms and wine stores The Cask and Vendome in recent weeks. During a recent lunch with the Journal, the couple said the liqueur will soon be available at Ralphs and Smart & Final, as well.

“I started making it after Sukkot, when you have all these leftover etrogim,” Marni Witkin said. “It came out pretty good.” After some prodding by friends and community members — including an owner of Glatt Mart — the Witkins decided to turn their hobby into a business.

“If you make it, I want it, and I will sell every drop that you can make,” Howard remembers the Glatt Mart co-owner telling him.

Sukkah Hill Spirits has a warehouse in Marina del Rey, where it produces and stores the liqueur. And the etrogim, which they buy from a citrus farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, come in five or six varieties, according to Witkin.

“We get a mixture of etrogim,” he said. “A couple of them have more pith, some have more sweetness, some have more tang.”

After extracting the flavor from the etrogim (the process of which, Witkin said, is a trade secret), it sits in kosher cane sugar-based alcohol for about two weeks before the mixture undergoes taste testing — almost all of which is determined by Marni’s palate.

“Once we have it to the proper taste [test],  we have a pump system, and we pump it into bottles and measure out the bottles and cap them and seal them and label them,” Witkin said.

Sold in 375-milliliter bottles at a suggested retail price of $34.95, the etrog liqueur is smooth and sweet, but not too sweet. Its flavor explodes on the tongue, is far less bitter than a plain etrog, and has a slightly syrupy yet refreshing taste. 

If Witkin’s etrog liqueur turns out to be a popular drink sold in major grocery stores, it would be just his most recent of many successes.

Raised in a Conservative Jewish home in Woodland Hills, Howard met Marni at a synagogue confirmation class at Maarav Temple when they were 15. He began his path to observance at age 20, while he was in Israel during summer break from UCLA, from which he received degrees in mathematics and computer science.


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