Kashrut of whiskey and Scotch

Religious Jews have practices to sanctify each area of life by creating sanctifications/distinctions. For eating, drink & food is sanctified by dividing it into kosher (acceptable to eat) as opposed to treif (not acceptable). Days are sanctified by dividing into Shabbat (Sabbath) vs weekdays, and holidays vs. regular days. When it comes to drinking and eating in particular, Jews follow the spiritual practice of Kashrut, כַּשְׁרוּת. This brings up the question, is all whiskey kosher?

Bulleit Siddur Sim Shalom Or Hadash

Shouldn’t it all be kosher? Whiskey is just made from grains, yeast, water and barrel aging. That’s cool. But in today’s modern world drinks often contains a wide variety of additional ingredients, so one often looks for a hekhsher – certification of kashrut – to know if an item is kosher. Although, outside of meat, kosher food does not usually need a hechsher.

So is all whiskey and Scotch kosher, even without certification? Generally speaking, yes it is! All whiskey is kosher whether made from  barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat.

A few whiskeys are aged in sherry casks. Some Orthodox rabbis are concerned about the wine that may be absorbed by the whiskey, if aged in sherry casks. That’s because the rules for wine are stricter than for other foods; that’s a whole separate issue.

Nonetheless, the amount of wine absorbed is minuscule – so much so that Jewish law views this as nullified. Most rabbis hold that this type of whiskey is kosher even without a heksher. However, this position is not accepted by all congregations, so you may want to ask your local rabbi.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein זצ״ל wrote about blended whiskey which, in rare cases, might contain very small amounts of glycerine. He ruled that “Kol ha’rabbonim shosim zeh” – all the rabbis drink it. – Igros Moshe: Yoreh Deah 1:62-63

To address this in more depth, here is Rabbi Chaim Cohen,  Rabbi of Netzach Yisrael and Yavneh Girls High School, Manchester.

Question: I have noticed that certain Scotch whiskies now have a hechsher on them. Does whisky need a hechsher?

Answer: The poskim agree that ordinary Scotch whisky (whether single malt or blended) which has no mention of any wine casks is perfectly Kosher. The question arises when whisky has been matured in wine casks, such as the Macallan Sherry Oak. R’ Moshe Feinstein famously addresses this issue in 2 responsa: Igros Moshe YD 1:62-63.

While the Shulchan Aruch (YD 134:13) forbids drinking a gentile’s beverage when it is customary to add non-Kosher wine to it, R’ Moshe follows the more lenient Rema. Providing the wine is nullified against 6 parts whisky (as opposed to the usual 1:60 ratio), the wine is Kosher.

While R’ Moshe advises that a baal nefesh should best avoid such whisky, seemingly he was specifically referring to a scenario where wine had actually been added to whisky. As Scotch Whisky Regulations dictate that Scotch may only contain water, grain yeast and caramel colouring, we can be assured that wine is not added.

Many American poskim are concerned that as the entire sherry (or port, Madeira, etc.) cask is saturated with non-Kosher wine, the wine is no longer battul 1:6 in the whisky. Others, including R’ Akiva Niehaus (Sherry Casks, A Halachic Perspective) argue that R’ Moshe wasn’t referring to Scotch, but to American or Canadian whiskey. Accordingly, they forbid Wine Cask Finishes, arguing that the wine adds a recognizable taste to the whisky.

Nonetheless, Rabbanim in the UK (including the London Beis Din) maintain that R’ Moshe’s rulings apply to Scotch, and follow R’ Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss’s permissive ruling, too (Minchas Yitzchak 2:28). Note, that distilleries outside of Scotland (including Ireland) are not bound by the same regulations, and their whiskies may be problematic. Thus one must consult their Kashrus authority.

Chaim Cohen is Rabbi of Netzach Yisrael and Yavneh Girls High School, Manchester.

Doseofhalacha.blogspot Kashrus of Scotch

Further reading

Flavors, Finishes and Fireball: Understanding the New Age of Whiskey and its Halachic Implications, Source Sheet by Adam Miller

Flavors, Finishes and Fireball

Rabbi Asher Weiss’ teshuvah allowing whiskey from sherry casks

Question: What is the Rav’s opinion about whiskey which is aged in Sherry Casks?

Answer: The flavor in the casks is considered insignificant in halacha and poses no kashrus concern for the whiskey. This is due to the fact that the flavor is halachically indiscernible, and presumed by chazal not to significantly improve the whiskey in any tangible way. See the attached teshuvos for elaboration [taken from Shu”t Minchas Asher chelek aleph]

Whiskey from Sherry Casks, by Akiva Dershowitz

Further resources

Sherry Casks, A Halachic Perspective, Rabbi Akiva Niehaus

Sherry Casks, A Halachic Perspective, Rabbi Akiva Niehaus (2nd server)

Kosher Whisky, Part I: Production

Kosher Whisky, Part II, Sherry casks

Jews and whiskey during prohibition

4 comments

  1. This is a very one sided article that is portraying opinion and hypothesis as fact. It is a dis-service to the kosher consumer and should be removed from the web along with the other poorly constructed posts including “does food really need a hechsher”. If you (the author) feel this is incorrect please email me and I will explain it to you in layman’s terms.

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    • You write “This is a very one sided article that is portraying opinion and hypothesis as fact” – yet you cite not a singe error or mistake. What you see above are precisely cited quotes from the leading Orthodox rabbis in the United States and England, over the last 70 years. Each statement is carefully documented,
      This is a mainstream Orthodox Jewish opinion, and is perfectly valid. I do understand that you disagree; you may come from a Hasidic Jewish background, which does not accept Orthodox Jewish kashrut as sufficient.
      In the last 200 years, the Hasidic Jewish community has made a number of changes and stringencies in Jewish law. They certainly have the right to do so, but that’s a personal set of chumrot that you are taking upon yourself. Be very careful in how you phrase disagreements, lest you delegitimize all of Orthodox Judaism except that of Ashkenazi Hasidim. And let’s not be Ashkenormative: Judaism exists outside of the Hasidic community in Europe. What about Mizrachi and Sephardic Judaism? They are equally legitimate.

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