Monthly Archives: October 2016

Kashrut of whiskey

Is all whiskey kosher?



Also see kosher for Passover whiskey, and Bob’s Whiskey Review Blog! Bourbons, Scotches, Ryes, Irish Whiskey, etc.

Generally speaking, yes. Even without a heksher, whiskey is kosher whether made from  barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat.  Corn-based whiskey is termed bourbon; rye-based whiskey is termed rye. Whiskey made in Scotland according to Scottish rules is termed Scotch.

A few whiskeys are aged in sherry casks. Some Orthodox poskim are concerned about extremely tiny amounts of wine that may be absorbed by the whiskey, if aged in sherry casks. The amount of wine absorbed is minuscule – so much so that most traditional halakhic considerations consider it nullified. As such, most rabbis hold that this type of whiskey is kosher, even without a heksher. However, this position is not accepted by all congregations so ask your local rav for guidance for your community’s traditions.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein זצ״ל wrote about blended whiskey which, in rare cases, supposedly 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.

Further reading

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

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]

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


Whiskey reviews page 1


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Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?


Maker’s Mark

Up in Freeport Maine a friend and I had the occasion to sample Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (45% abv). This is the bourbon noted for it’s distinctive bottles sealed with red wax. They’re typically aged for 6 years, in new American white oak barrels. To be defined as a bourbon a whiskey needs to be made with a mash bill that is at least 51% corn, while the remaining 49% could be any other cereal grain, such as rye, barley, wheat or corn. Most bourbons have some rye, which provides a bit of bourbon’s distinctive spice, or bite. But Maker’s Mark is a “wheater”, made with red winter wheat instead of rye. The third ingredient in their mash bill is barley. That puts it in the category of some rather famous and sought-after bourbons, the Pappy Van Winkle family,  Weller family, etc. Thoughts? Great color and body, great flavor – and for it’s price, one of the best around. It won’t excite the reviewers who feel the need to drink prized bourbons costing $80 or more per bottle, but Maker’s Mark beats out some higher prices bourbons and Irish whiskeys that I have tried.



10/2/16 Beat 3 Whiskey

I had the privilege of touring Djinn Spirits, a craft distillery located in Nashua, New Hampshire. It is under the proprietorship of Andy and Cindy Harthcock. Easily accessible just off of Amherst Street, it’s in a quiet, unassuming long industrial building, with a friendly store and tasting area in front.  Only three years old, Djinn now features several whiskies and liquors.

Beat 3 White Whiskey, Barley mash. Basically, moonshine, filtered, and then “aged” for four days in charred American oak barrels. This moonshine is sweet and powerful. Would be great as a mixer.

Beat 3 Reserve Whiskey, Barley mash. Aged for four months in charred American oak barrels. Gaining in color, and developing some whiskey flavors, this was richer, and noticeably different from the white whiskey.

Beat 3 Single Malt Whiskey, Barley mash. A small-batch whiskey, aged for a year, in 15-gallon barrels. This is where things get really good – I’m normally a bourbon drinker, yet this easy, clean sweet whiskey feels like it could become a daily drinker, taken on the rocks.



Colonel E. H. Taylor
Woodford Reserve
Eagle Rare

Woodford Reserve is noticeably smoother than the Eagle Rare, although both are good. The alcohol content is the same in both, so the difference must be the mash bill and oak barrel aging. I’ve been noticing that Colonel E. H. Taylor, small batch bourbon whiskey, BiB, has been getting a lot of great press. This is the third time that I’ve tried it, but it’s just not growing on me. It’s a bit stronger, 100 Proof but the flavor profile isn’t to my liking.  I brought it to a party, and everybody else seems to like it, and that’s okay. Whiskey is like wine: not everybody likes the same flavor profiles.




Jameson Irish Whiskey

Distiller: Jameson Distillery, now owned by Pernod Ricard,  a French liquor production corporation. 80 Proof.
Aged in sherry casks, and then in bourbon casks, for at least 3 years.

Here I am getting ready for the Yamim Nora’im (Jewish High Holy Days, Days of Awe) with Irish whiskey and Jewish theology. The whiskey is Jameson, triple distilled, aged for 7 years. An amazingly smooth and delicious spirit. From Smithfield Village, Dublin, Ireland.

The book is Prayer and Penitence: A Commentary on the High Holy Day Machzor, by Jeffrey M. Cohen. The best book I’ve ever come across on this subject.




Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey

My friend Craig and I engaging in purely scientific research, again. From their website: “Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey combines a high amount of malt whiskey matured in former Oloroso Sherry casks, with a sweet, batch-distilled grain whiskey.” Worth trying again – the next time I will be taking notes.




Chivas Regal 12 year old blended Scotch whisky.
Dewar’s blended Scotch whiskey, White Label

This is the second time I’ve tried Dewar’s blended Scotch whiskey, White Label. Just doesn’t appeal to my tastes. I’m not getting much in the way of pleasant flavor.

As a comparison I tried Courvoisier Cognac VS. It was surprisingly whisky-like, but it had hints of unpleasant organics. I gave it a chance over a couple of days, but I just didn’t like it whatsoever.



5/1/16 Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

This has a high rye content (28%), aged at least 6 years in charred American white oak. Made in the Four Roses distillery. Standing out as something to try regularly. Smooth and flavorful. Bourbon whiskey is always at least 51% corn, but Bulleit is notable for a high rye content, 28% of the mash bill. 91 proof. Quite affordable, too.

Gentleman Jack – I just don’t get the popularity of Jack Daniels. Never liked it. Although Jack is a bourbon, it is marketed as a “Tennessee whiskey”, which is a made-up marketing term, with no real meaning. Although I don’t enjoy regular Jack, Gentleman Jack is an upscale version, and said to be worth trying. It is charcoal-mellowed twice. One before and once after the ageing process. Supposed to be produce a cleaner flavor. Maybe to others, but I found it quite distasteful.

Chivas Regal – Blended Scotch Whisky, 12 year old. A decent drink.



Eagle Rare Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey

Aged 10 years in charred American White Oak barrels. 90 proof. Tastes sweet, and a little tart. Smooth body, well balanced.



Maker’s Mark Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey

Served here with Lindt Excellence blackberry dark chocolate. Seemed quite a bit like Blanton’s – which is excellent.




Crown Royal

My father’s last bottle of whisky. Crown Royal, blended Canadian. L,Chayim, Abba. Our tradition is to say, זיכרונו לברכה – Zichrono li’vrachah, may your memory be for a blessing. Every time I think of my family, and look at my daughter, and know how much she loves you, I know that it already has been a blessing.



Knob Creek Kentucky Straight – over the rocks, this is excellent!. At 100 proof, it does need ice or water. But just an amazing, clean palate.

Chivas Regal – Excellent, straight or over the rocks. Yes, it’s blended, but damn fine.

Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 12 year – Clean, good taste, a bit harsher than the Chivas Regal or Knob Creek.

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon – great! But expensive. In the same class as Knob Creek.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye – Blended Canadian Whisky. Harsher than a few of the others that I have tasted. It does have a distinctive taste, probably due to it’s high rye content. The rye aspect of it is refreshing, but as a straight drink, too much for me. Good with ginger ale.

American Honey (Bourbon Whisky) – I wasn’t expecting this. I thought that this might be whiskey with hints of honey, but it is more of a flavored whisky liquor. Far sweeter than I expected, which may be what some people want. But not what I am looking for.




Kiddush קִדּוּשׁ Club” refers to an informal group of Jewish adults who congregate during or after Shabbat (שַׁבָּת, Sabbath) prayer services to make kiddush over wine or liquor, and socialize. Traditionally it has been a male-bonding experience, especially in the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities. – Wikipedia

What’s the role of drinking in Judaism? From the The International Kiddush Club, a project of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

There have been kiddush clubs in shuls for as long as there have been shuls. Making a לְחַיִּים “l’chaim” after davening is one of the unique aspects of Judaism; our belief that the mundane parts of life can be elevated to a higher status through prayer is one of the central parts of our faith.

We eat, sleep, drink, etc. with a blessing. The blessing makes the action holy, not just through making it, but also through the reflection one gets from pausing before the act to stop and make the blessing. We think about what we are going to do and we have the intention to perform the act after a religious moment. We bring holiness to these acts through the blessing, through the thought and through our commitment.

Judaism has no prohibition on alcoholic beverages, in fact, one of our most important and sacred acts is to consecrate shabbat and holidays with the kiddush (blessing) over wine. If proper wine is not available, any kosher alcohol or juice may be substituted. It’s not about the drink, it’s about the kiddush.

Kiddush clubs meet any time after the Shacarit service…A quick l’chaim, a little shmaltz herring on a TamTam, maybe some smoked fish or more. Then back to the service and Musaf, refreshed, well fed and ready.

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו, מלך העולם, שהכל נהיה בדברו.

Praised are you, Adonai our God, who rules the universe, through whose word all things exist. – traditional blessing before having whiskey.