Is all whiskey kosher?
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.
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]