Manischewitz Tiki Torch: An Essay

the Tacky Torch

Tacky Tiki Torch

The Manischewitz Tiki Torch.  Unendorsed, unaffiliated, unnoticed by the Manischewitz company, but most emphatically created in homage to it.  I timed the debut for erev Sukkot, and I admit, I am tickled purple with myself.

This is not a tutorial.  This is not a DIY project at all, in fact, because I do not wish to be sued when your Manischewitz Tiki Torch slips loose and plummets to your power-washed deck like a molotov cocktail.  Nor do I wish to be held liable when your sister-in-law’s up-do ignites as she sidles by.  This is is an open flame in a heavy bottle held by an ill-fitting clamp on the end of a rod.

I love it, though.  Here’s why:

According to Pinterest, normal, fancy grownup people seem to need fancy upcycled wine bottle torches to set their tablescapes aglow.  I am not normal, fancy or grownup.  My family’s outdoor entertaining is pretty much family-only.  We make s’mores a couple times a year, lob smoke bombs at each other on July 4th, and on Sukkot, we try to finish at least one meal on the card table in the sukkah before the mosquitos finish us.  A Target Dollar Spot tablecloth and a pickle jar is my tablescape.  It certainly doesn’t need mood lighting, and where would I get the fancy wine bottles?  If I had a wine rack—and I don’t—it would need to be a bespoke version with square holes, because the only wine in the house comes in square bottles.

Manischewitz ‘r’ us.

Thus, when I rescue a bottle from the recycling bin and set it on fire, it is to honor the humble kosher beverage that sanctifies our Shabbats, our holidays, and every Family Life Cycle Event Since the Year Gimmel.

Maximum Manischewitz effect demands the label must be protected with sealant, and the glass must showcase a convincing Concord grape.  A clear bottle full of torch fuel would miss the point.

Actually, any storebought fuel sort of misses the heimische point (although citronella would come in handy).  In my bottle, where once sat sweet wine now floats a layer of olive oil atop water shaded purple with plops of blue and red tempera, swizzled to blend.   Sure, I could have painted the inside of the bottle (Martha Stewart advises enamel paint) but colored water is fast and cheap and odorless.

Note the wick is threaded through the Manischewitz screw lid.  This is in contrast to the elegant cobalt wine bottle torches—think Design Sponge—topped with name-brand Tiki wicking embraced in a solid copper coupling.  I do love me some copper, but this is cheap Shabbes wine, not Bordeaux, and the screw lid is absolutely perfect.

My wick is as humble as the lid.  I made it.  Thanks to a spectacular miscalculation about how much bandaging a normal bris would require, there are still unopened boxes of gauze in the medicine cupboard seven years later. Cotton gauze, ripped into thirds and braided, makes a great wick.

the thematic way to accidentally burn down the sukkah

Another reason I cannot recommend this project is that our beloved bottle—either the 750ML or the 1.5L—is not a standard size, and the appropriate split-ring connector confounded the sales staff at three hardware stores before I found a plumbing supply guy who saved the day.  He knew what I wanted before I took the bottle out of the bag.  He sized me up with his good eye and growled, “You gonna make you some tiki torches.”  It wasn’t a question.  And lo, he disappeared behind the staff door and came back with a handful of bits in black, brass and copper, slightly greasy.  One ring fit—kinda-sorta-good enough—and as I reached for my wallet, he said, “Aw, it won’t be but about a dollar seventy.  Just come back when you need somethin’ in the plumbing line.  And next time, make sure that bottle’s full.”

Free.  I got my hardware for free.  From a big bear of a guy, like a dissipated Grizzly Adams with a lazy eye and a Nashville drawl, dressed head to toe in camouflage.

Turns out, he too had tried to make a torch, but with a whiskey bottle that defied all split-ring connectors.

But you, you might not find a plumbing angel.  And, you can’t just order a torch kit off Amazon and expect it to fit every bottle.  So don’t try.  It’s a dumb idea to hang fire from a wooden structure anyway, especially a sukkah, which by definition is but a temporary, fragile assemblage topped with rapidly drying branches and dangling ornaments.   Do not try this at home.  (Is this enough of a legal disclaimer?)

I tried this at home, yes, but so far, just to document in photos.  However, a week of Sukkot stretches ahead, and I’m hoping that our Manischewitz tribute will shine on at least one festive meal.  We need to be able to see that pickle jar.  And we need to see our kiddush cups—full of you know what— as we say the Shehechiyanu.*

Chag Sameach.

*Shehechiyanu = prayer of gratitude

The elegant version at Design Sponge: complete tutorial for wine bottle torch.  But it won’t work for Manischewitz bottles, I swear.’s quick, cheap DIY version for wine bottle torches, but freestanding (without the mounting hardware).  Includes instructions for piercing a screw cap and making homemade gauze wicks.

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