While Hasidic Jews might enjoy some alcohol with their rebbe at a Friday night tish, said alcohol would never have been produced by a female descendant of a prominent Hasidic rabbinic dynasty. Until now. Gitty Halberstam isn’t what you picture when a Hasidic woman or “bootlegger” (what she sarcastically calls herself) comes to mind. But perhaps it is her unusual background that makes her Misceo Liqueur company a success.
Halberstam grew up Brooklyn and never identified with any one Hasidic sect since she’s “related to them all.” The reality of being raised in a house with a strong rabbinic presence was that she learned to respect and be aware of everyone’s differences and the way other Jews practice. Halberstam is a highly accomplished woman with a triple Master’s degree and a triple plate of jobs, including being a teacher for first-grade boys, an ABA counselor for kids with autism, and now an entrepreneur for flavored liqueur (in addition to her responsibilities as a mother and a wife).
About eight years ago, Halberstam’s mother-in-law discovered that their mutual beloved liqueur, Kahlua, lost its kosher certification. This loss fueled Halberstam to start experimenting in the kitchen, tasting each batch for the closest duplicate. She says, “we tried it so many different ways until we came up with the way that we really liked it.” Once it reached a level that made it “mishloach manot worthy,” it was then, on Purim, that it made its debut to friends and family. She recalls that “everyone went crazy over it.” Strangers began knocking on her door, asking to purchase bottles of her brand, which was later named Misceo, meaning “to brew” in Latin. Halberstam’s secret was that she focused on creating a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) liqueur that wasn’t too dense and too sweet like the ones already out on the market.
At first, she had no clue as to how she would make it professionally within a halachic framework since, she states, “it was a whole new world.” As a Hasidic woman, Gitty doesn’t shake men’s hands, even in a business setting. Additionally, she had no knowledge of the business’ strict practices, rules, and regulations. It was a long process until she got the proper licensing and rights to produce Misceo commercially, because “The alcohol industry is really, really complicated.” But after consulting with business tycoons and successful entrepreneurs, it took three years from the birth of her small in-home business to become an explosive success on the market. This is especially surprising for Halberstam since she never thought it would turn into a business it is until one day, it did.
Distilled in Upstate New York with bottles imported from Italy, Misceo can be found in a number of kosher-heavy areas like Brooklyn, Lakewood, Five Towns, and Florida and is slowly expanding to the non-kosher market as well. Despite the tough competition of the international market, Halberstam’s talent and passion has paid off, which is what brought her to win platinum in the International Sip Awards, beating out all the non-kosher brands. It is also due to her firm morals and, as she expressed, “values of something that’s Bigger than yourself,” which has opened a window of opportunity and success.
Being a religious woman coming from a great Hasidic lineage, her initial hesitance to create a career out of this is understandable. “There are so many pre-conceived notions [about the liquor industry] that are really false.” Halberstam was afraid of having this innocent, enjoyable hobby of hers turn into an inappropriate stamp marked on her family. Thankfully, only positive feedback has come in, where people are incredibly impressed, not only because of the quality taste, but in terms of her life in which, “nothing has changed, but I have this really good product.” She truly believes that “Jewish women can do whatever they want if they set their mind to it.” Like make kosher chocolate liquer. Misceo Chocolate flavor launches soon.