Monthly Archives: March 2017

Whiskey reviews page 5

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Dunville Distillery, Belfast National Library of Ireland on The Commons

Dunville Distillery, Belfast | by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, Circa 1900.

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These whiskies are made by Irish Distillers, at the New Midleton Distillery, in County Cork, Ireland.

Midleton Very Rare. Combines both pot still and grain whiskeys, no age statement, but the individual contents are generally at least 12 years old, with some much more than that. Aged in ex-bourbon American Oak barrels.  So – what is it like? Well, if you think that you enjoy Irish whiskey because you like Jameson then you’re in for a surprise – most Irish whiskeys are nothing like it! Midleton Very Rare was perhaps the lightest of what I tasted today. I didn’t enjoy it at first, yet enjoyed it a lot more when I circled back to it at the end of the tasting.

Green Spot. Brighter note on the nose. Very different from the 1st, better.
not bad. 7 to 10 year old, non chill filtered. Crisp apple or pear notes. Notes of vanilla, honey. Bourbon casks. Creamy mouth feel. Circling back, still not a favorite.
Redbreast aged 12 years. Nose is bitter compared to bourbons. Single pot still whiskey. First fill Bourbon, then Sherry casks. Nowadays there are no guidelines for what a sherry cask is. 500 liters. Sherry aged for a minimum of 2 years. Has Autumn notes.

Redbreast Lustau. Made to pay homage to the sherry industry. Dryer. Start in 2nd fill casks. Less influence from the casks initial spirit. More tannic, spice notes. Then oloroso sherry casks for another year of aging. Non aged statement. 10 to 13 years old total. 92 proof. The Irish call this Christmas cake spice flavor 🙂 that’s an Irish term. Dry at first, but it seemed to sweeten up greatly when I circled back around. Amazing how increasing levels of alcohol in the blood can change one’s perception.

Powers John’s Lane Release.
Big, bold, non chill filtered. I don’t like the nose at all, smells like rubbing alcohol. Flavors are baking spice, honey notes. More of a malted barley flavor. Circling around, I still don’t enjoy this one.

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Irish whiskey tasting event at Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits,
in Medford, Massachusets.

The word “whiskey” is an Anglicisation of the first word in the Gaelic phrase, uisce betha, meaning “water of life.” This is a translation of the Latin term aqua vitae, which was commonly used to describe distilled spirits during the Middle Ages. Peat is rarely used in the malting process, so that Irish whiskey has a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy overtones common to some Scotches. There are notable exceptions to these rules in both countries. Although traditionally spelled with an ‘e’, Irish whiskey may be marketed as “Irish whisky”

There are legal standards that must be met for something to be sold as Irish Whiskey. It must be distilled on the island of Ireland from a mash of malted cereals , and which has been: saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein; fermented by the action of yeast; distilled at less than 94.8% abv; aged for at least three years in wooden casks, such as oak; only water and plain caramel colouring may be added (E150a); have a minimum alcoholic by volume content of 40%, all done on the island of Ireland itself.

– adapted from Wikipedia, “Irish Whiskey”

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Glendalough Poutin Sherry Cask $38- A mash bill of malted barley and sugar beet, so it technically isn’t a whiskey. Aged in oak casks. Very nice, but not special. More expensive that the Double Barrel, so it again shows me that I don’t always favor the more expensive forms.

Glendalough Double Barrel $27.99. distilled in a Coffey still. Aged in ex-bourbon and finished for six months in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. Really quite good!

Glendalough Single Malt, aged 7 years. $44.99. Just like a Scotch! Non-chill filtered, made in a copper pot still. Slightly smoky, yet not peaty.  Sweet, perhaps a hint of citrus. Since I hate strong peat, I was able to enjoy the subtle smoky tint. I could get used to this 🙂

Glendalough Single Malt, aged 13 years. $79.99.  Also smoky, a bit dark for me. Hints of spice and vanilla.

Glendalough Poitin – Made with barley and beets, so it technically isn’t a whiskey. This is traditionally a common form of Irish moonshine. Not much nose to it. vegetal.  It was easy to drink, no burn, but there’s no real flavor there. Seems like moonshine or whiskey; not sure that it has much purpose other than as a mixer, or as a vehicle to get drunk.

Glendalough

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Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey- Their standard, younger whiskey was okay. It was light and bright, easy to drink. Similar to some other Irish whiskies that I have tried. However, didn’t seem like anything special. Not planning on buying this.

Tullamore Dew, Aged 12 Years, Triple Distilled. Now this was different. Darker, with a richer flavor. Really stands up to other good whiskies out there. Irish whiskey aficionados might like to try this. It’s not hitting my favored flavor profiles, but it was nice to try.

Tullamore Dew

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Flaming Leprechaun Irish Whiskey

Made by Malcolm Brown Ltd. (Dundalk, Ireland.) The distiller says “Flaming Leprechaun Irish Whiskey is an original blend that is naturally golden in colour, with a slightly sweet smell and taste coming from the unique wood character of each hand picked cask. To keep the taste authentic, honest and true to the rich heritage of previous generations of distillers we ensure that no flavours, sweetness or allergens are added to the whiskey during the blending process.”

I was told that this aged for 4 years, and is advertised as being part of a line of “premium distilled spirits.” Yeah, okay 😉 You can just taste a hint of smokiness from the sherry casks that it was aged in. It was … nice? No burn, not a strong nose. Just nothing special here to recommend it.

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Jameson Irish Whiskey, from Jameson Distillery, now owned by Pernod Ricard, a French liquor production corporation. 80 Proof. Aged in sherry casks, and then in bourbon casks, aged for 7 years. An amazingly smooth and delicious spirit. From Smithfield Village, Dublin, Ireland.

Jameson Caskmates – Well! This was hard to review… but it’s basically stout beer barrels used to age whiskey. I couldn’t stand the taste of this at all, it’s just not whisky. There was even a hint of cocoa – which normally makes a whiskey a real winner for me, but I couldn’t get around the beer flavors. But for those people who like to mix beer and whiskey? This might be for you.

Jameson Black Barrel – Extra aged in charred barrels – and as expected, it added a beautiful hint of smokiness (yet without the peat flavor) Darn good

Jameson Irish

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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.”

Black Bush, a blend of whiskies from 7 to 11 years old. 80 proof. Aged in Oloroso Sherry casks, and in ex-bourbon casks. Distilled in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The Old Bushmills Distillery is now owned by Jose Cuervo. A far better drink that Dewar’s, and it has an audience, but I’m not a fan. Gentle sherry nose. A thin palate, although you can definitely taste the sherry influence.

Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey

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Redbreast Single Pot Still, Lustau Edition

From their website “As are all Redbreast whiskies, Lustau Edition is crafted from a marriage of malted and unmalted barley, which are milled and mashed before being triple-distilled through traditional copper-pot stills. The inclusions of unmalted barley in the whiskey’s mashbill, along with the tradition of triple distillation, are uniquely Irish approaches to producing whiskey.”

Finished in first-fill oloroso-sherry butts . This had a floral nose yet almost a peaty flavor. Decent, but not worth $70.

Redbreast

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

Rav Kook’s Secret Writings

Rav Kook’s Secret Writings: A Drama In Several Parts
The Jewish Press, By Hillel Fendel – 19 Tishri 5773 – October 4, 2012

Rav Kook Painting

Clandestine photocopying of tucked-away documents in Israel’s National Library, hurried text messages of selected passages verifying their pristine, unpublished condition, and question marks surrounding the editing and possible censorship practices of trusted editors from eighty years ago.

These are some of the fascinating aspects of what many assume to be a straightforward phenomenon but that in fact has turned out to be a mysterious, complex and ongoing enterprise – the publication of the writings of the ultimate inspiration of the religious-Zionist camp, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, zt”l.

Up until the mid-1980s, things were simple. One could barely find a self-respecting religious-Zionist home in Israel without at least some volumes of the “White Wave” or the “White Shas” – i.e., the fundamental works of Rav Kook, so named because they all featured a simple white dust jacket with a light-green border.

The books, such as Orot (Lights), Orot HaKodesh (Lights of Holiness), and the Siddur commentary Olat R’iyah became staples not only of philosophical yeshiva study for thousands of students but also the very basis for understanding the rich, profound and novel thought of the saintly and scholarly Rav Kook.

It was common knowledge that these books had been edited by Rav Kook’s two prize students: his son Rav Tzvi Yehuda and the Nazir, Rav David Cohen. The latter had been entrusted with eight of Rav Kook’s notebooks, from which he culled and edited the gems that would later comprise Orot HaKodesh.

Meanwhile, Rav Tzvi Yehuda was doing the same with some twelve other notebooks his father had given him, and produced from them (and partly from the other eight as well) many of his father’s other famous works – Orot, Orot HaTorah, and more.

Rav Kook barely wrote any books as complete, unified entities. Rather, he wrote in an almost stream-of-consciousness format on any and all topics, and he filled many little notebooks with short paragraphs of his deepest and most profound musings.

When Rav Tzvi Yehuda died in 1982, whatever hashkafic material remained in manuscript (not including writings such as commentary on the aggadic passages of Tractates Berachot and Shabbat, which became the four-volume Ein Ayah) appeared to be fated for oblivion. This, because the newly-established Rav Tzvi Yehuda Institute (RTYI) did not go out of its way to convince the Raanan family – direct descendants of Rav Kook and the owners of his papers – to allow them to be published.

Though it was known that Rav Kook had left many manuscripts behind, no publication date appeared on the horizon.

And yet, contrary to expectations, many books of Rav Kook’s hidden writings have been published over the past several years. Just last month, for instance, in honor of Rav Kook’s 77th yahrzeit on Elul 3, a work entitled Yesh Lach Kanfei Ruach – You Have Wings of Spirit – was made available to the public. Named after a line in one of Rav Kook’s poems, it is a compendium of his writings – some of which had not before seen print – on the topic of the confidence a believing Jew must have in himself and his ability to do good.

In short, with the holy writings apparently under permanent wraps, an entire series of Rav Kook’s writings have now seen the light of day. How did this occur?

The answer, it seems, is a man named Boaz Ofan.

Ofaz was learning in Yeshivat Ramat Gan a decade and a half ago when, he said, “we were a bunch of chutzpadik youths who decided the papers should no longer remain concealed.”

Though he is now willing to divulge much of how he came to fulfill this goal, he does not want to say how he actually received his first copies of some of the secret manuscripts. He collected a fair amount but then got stuck: He had too many to ignore, but too few to actually publish.

Knowing RTYI was reticent to publish, he unceremoniously informed the rabbis there, “I have photocopies of all Rav Kook’s writings. Either you publish what you have – or I will.”

They did – and thus was born the first “unedited” volume of Rav Kook’s works, known as Shemoneh Kvatzim, or Eight Collections – the unabridged series of manuscripts from which Rav Kook himself actually commissioned publication. (Another version of the story has it that Rav Yitzchak Shilat, the editor, was actually at work on the project before Ofan appeared on the scene.)

Asked to explain the source of his daring, Ofan told Neta’el Bandel of Olam Katan, “Mostly from the enthusiasm of the many who were thirsty to learn Rav Kook exactly as he wrote his thoughts. The books were grabbed up immediately upon being printed.”

This was not particularly good news for everyone. The students and rabbis represented by the Rav Tzvi Yehuda Institute felt the proper way to understand Rav Kook was by learning passages in the proper context, not free-style. Some say the order was given to buy out the entire printing so that it would not be widely disseminated.

Ofan and his colleagues at Yeshivat Ramat Gan did not hesitate. It took them four years to get it together, but in 2003 they re-published the work – in two volumes instead of three, with the same size and look. The new edition became known as the Ramat Gan Eight Collections.

The ball was now in RTYI’s court, and it published the heretofore unknown “Notebook 13.” However, several important passages – such as those on Spinoza, secular learning, the Divinity of Torah – had been omitted.

Meanwhile, Ofan and a friend, Matanya Shai, had discovered yet another collection of Rav Kook’s writings; what it was doing in the National Library is a mystery in itself. Shai made his way to the library archives, where a librarian stood guard to make sure he wouldn’t photocopy them.

“When the librarian finally left,” Shai related, “I quickly texted my brother entire passages, one after another, and asked him to check if they appeared in any of the books, including the Eight Collections. Each time he said no, it wasn’t there. We had discovered a real treasure, larger than the previous one – and never before published!”

Much of what had been understood of Rav Kook’s philosophical and Kabbalistic thought was based on what he had written during a seven-year period (1912-1919) and which became Orot HaKodesh and other works – but it turns out he wrote in this style well before and after that, for more than three decades. The lion’s share of these spiritual riches had never before been available to scholars or students.

Without transgressing any laws – it is doubtful the National Library has the legal right to prevent photocopying – Shai prepared look-alike documents to keep in the archives while he photocopied one original after the other. Even with the help of friends, it took months.

They again proposed that RTYI publish the new material instead of them but were turned down, and once again a “pirate” version of Rav Kook’s writings was published. Titled Ktavim Mikhatv Yad Kadsho – Writings from His Holy Hand – it too has ignited the interest of Torah scholars and students of Rav Kook around the world.

The end of the story? There is none. Ofan says there are still more writings, but not enough to publish; some argue that the personal musings of even a great sage are not public property; and meanwhile the study of Torah continues, from generation to generation.

 

Peshat and Derash

Jews study the Tanakh (Bible) on multiple levels: The two basic levels of Tanakh study are termed peshat and derash.

The first is the פְּשָׁט‎ “peshat”, taking the story of the text at face value. It should not be translated as “literally”, as the peshat level of analysis takes into account idioms, metaphors, personification, etc. The peshat is the message that the original author intended to get across to the original audience.

The second level is the distinctively Jewish דְּרַשׁ “derash” method: the way that Ḥazal (חז”ל‎‎) – the rabbis of the Mishnah, Midrash and Talmuds – interpreted the text: In derash we ask why the text is phrased the way that it is: we uses rabbinical literary techniques to plumb the depths of the text to find new meaning, or bring out connections and lessons that may not have been intended by the original authors. Sometimes the results are imaginative, and not the meaning intended by the original author. Indeed, some parts of the midrash literature are clear that the authors knew this. They were teaching lessons and writing Biblical homilies.

In the Mishnah and Talmud itself, some discussions show that rabbis felt that the derash was the original meaning of the text, while other discussions clearly understood the derash as filling-in-the-blanks, and creating meaning, laws and structure.

Even during the medieval era both schools of thought continued: Some meforshim (classical Bible commentators) such as Rashi, often accepted the derash as literally and historically true, while others (Rashbam, Ibn Ezra) felt otherwise.

Conflating the derash with the peshat later became a defining characteristic of more fundamentalist versions of rabbinic Judaism. Understanding that they are not identical became characteristic of non-fundamentalist versions of rabbinic Judaism.

Ari Marcelo Solon writes “Rashi’s grandson, Rashbam (R. Samuel ben Meir) clearly
distinguished between peshat and derash. His terminology relating to the peshat category is well-defined. Rashbam consistently interpreted in accordance with the peshat method; that is to say, he limited himself to the text itself, interpreting it according to its vocabulary, syntax and context, in relation to biblical parallels, according to common sense as well as derekh eretz (what is customary). Unlike Rashi, Rashbam did
not integrate biblical text and Midrash. It was Rashi who paved the way towards a clear distinction between peshat and derash in the writings of his successors. Yet in his commentaries, such a distinction still remains unrevealed.”

Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) may deny that there is any difference between peshat and derash, and they characterically teach that we are obligated to accept the derash as if it is the literal, original and only interpretation of the Bible. They may refer to any other approach as heretical.

In contrast, rabbis who appreciate great medieval Bible commentators such as Ibn Ezra and Rashbam, or who follow philosophical rationalism, often have exactly the opposite approach: Such rabbis are found within much of Modern Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox Judaism.

Modern Orthodox Rabbi Shalom Carmy (Yeshiva University) explains the difference between peshat and derash like this

1. Peshat–what text meant for first generation audience. Derash- what it may mean in retrospect. (Rabbi D.Z. Hoffmann says this).
2. Peshat– what’s in the lines; Derash- what’s hinted at between the lines, OR
2′. Peshat–what’s in the text; Drash- “filling in gaps” of what’s not explicit in text.

The relations between these levels is complicated & function differently in Halakhic and narrative contexts.
There are also ambiguities–what’s written in the first chapter of a book often has one meaning when you read the book the first time and another meaning when you get to the end. Likewise what a pasuk means in Shemot may appear different after you have reached Dvarim.

Articles

Correctly Construing Biblical Verses Upon which Halakhot Claim to be Based, Professor Rabbi Marty Lockshin

Ibn Ezra vs. Rashbam –  Can The Torah Contradict  Halacha (Jewish Law)?

http://thetorah.com/can-torah-contradict-halacha/

Does Halakha Uproot Scripture? Prof. Rabbi Marty Lockshin

Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis” by Rav Prof. David Weiss Halivni (Oxford U. Press 1991)

The Religious Significance of the Peshat, Uriel Simon. Tradition 23 (2), Winter 1988 also here at http://www.lookstein.org/articles/simon_peshat.htm

Book: Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: Studies in the Writings of a Twelfth-Century Jewish Polymath, Edited by Isadore Twersky and Jay M. Harris. Chapter Abraham Ibn Ezra as an Exegete, by Nahum M. Sarna

What do we do when a verse in the Torah says one thing but halakha, Jewish law, attributes a very different meaning to it? Some people engage in fundamentalist wordplay to conclude that there’s no difference between the peshat of the Torah, and Halakhah. But such differences exist; Even the Talmud notes this:

In the nineteenth century, Samuel David Luzzatto (Shadal; 1800-1865) developed a new way of solving the peshat-halakha dilemma, suggesting that midrash halakha (rabbinic interpretation of biblical legal texts) often represents rabbinic legislation, and NOT biblical commentary. He makes his clearest and most detailed statement on the topic in his commentary on Parashat Tzav…. Shadal’s approach to the peshat–derash issue is novel and simple: Whenever the peshat says one thing and the midrash says something very different, Shadal says that the peshat is what the Torah means and the midrash represents rabbinic legislation, not biblical interpretation…. From a halachic point of view, this approach may be problematic: these laws that were connected to biblical verses by means of a derashah were standardly considered by the rabbis to be of Torah, not rabbinic, origin (דאורייתא, not דרבנן), as Shadal’s approach apparently implies. Remarkably, for Shadal, the classical rabbis were religious reformers who changed the laws of the Torah, making them less stringent. Shadal lived in the early days of Reform Judaism and took issue with its innovations. Accordingly, he takes pains to distinguish the motivations of the classical rabbis from what he understood to be the motivations of his more liberal contemporaries [Classic German Reform Judaism]

Peshat vs. Halakha Dilemma: Shadal and Tradition

Influence of Arab Islamic thought on Maimonides

 

Perhaps the most imporant book on Jewish philosophy ever written in Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed (מורה נבוכים, Moreh Nevukhim.) Yet it is also one of the most misunderstood Jewish books.

The Guide of the Perplexed

Maimonides’s arguments can’t be followed at all, unless one is first familiar with the Hebrew Bible, and the relation of it to classical rabbinic literature (Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud.) Next, one must understand that all of his philosophy relates to Aristotle, and the contemporary neo-Aristotelian literature discussed by that era’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars.

One doesn’t need to be an expert one’s self in all these philosophers, but one does need to know Maimonides brought these ideas into his own work (it is standard for philosophers to read each other’s works, and share and critique ideas.) In particular Maimonides references the ideas of:

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Abu Bakr al-Razi (850-925 circa)

“As for Maimonides’ harsh judgement of al-Razi as a philosopher, it was clearly based upon the knowledge of the general contents of his metaphysics and theology as found in al-Razi’s Book of Divine Science as found both in his Guide of the Perplexed (Dalalat al-ha’irin) and in one of his letters to the “official” translator of his work, Samuel Ibn Tibbon. ”

al-Farabi, Abu Nasr (c.870-950)

“As for logic, al-Farabi even exerted a stronger influence over Medieval Jewish philosophy… According to Maimonides, there was no need to study logical texts, apart from those by al-Farabi, since “all that he wrote… is full of wisdom, and… he was a very valid author.” Surely, al-Farabi’s logical (and also non-logical) works influenced the Treatise On the Art of Logic (Maqala fi sina‘a al-mantiq) usually ascribed to Maimonides, and probably written around 1160”

“…According to Pines, although al-Farabi’s former work is not explicitely quoted in the Guide of the Perplexed, it was surely among the main sources of Maimonides’ doctrine about the different roles played by the philosopher and by the prophet. Al-Farabi’s idea about the relationship between philosophy and religion, according to which the former is in a substantially higher position with respect to the latter, as found in his Book on Letters (Kitab al-huruf) and Book on Religion (Kitab al-milla), strongly influenced Maimonides’ ideas about this; moreover, the Book on Letters was later employed as a source for Falaquera’s treatment of linguistics in his Beginning of Science. According to Davidson, Maimonides explicitly quoted and employed al-Farabi’s Political Regime under the title The Changing Beings (al-Mawjudat al-mutaghayyira) for discussing the question of the world’s eternity in part two, chapter 74, of the Guide”

Avicenna (real name: Ibn Sina, Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn) (980-1037)

“. Although clear echoes of Avicennian doctrines about the distinction between essence and existence, between necessary and contingent beings, as well as the well-known Avicennian proof of the existence of God, have been found in the Guide of the Perplexed (see Moses Maimonides 1962, 1:xciii-ciii), the explicit judgement of Maimonides about Avicenna’s thought appears to be substantially cool (for a different interpretation of this judgement, see however Dobbs-Weinstein 2002). In his letter to Samuel Ibn Tibbon, he affirms that “Avicenna’s books, although they are subtle and difficult, are not like those by al-Farabi; however, they are useful, and he too is an author whose words should be studied and understood”

Abu Bakr Ibn Bajja aka Ibn al-Sa’igh (d. 1138),

“…Maimonides had the highest esteem of Ibn Bajja: he affirmed that “he was a great and wise philosopher, and all his works are right and correct”, and possibly appreciated him as a commentator of Aristotle too (Marx 1934–1935, 379). In some cases he was surely influenced by Ibn Bajja’s thought: in the Guide of the Perplexed, he explicitly refers to some of his philosophical and scientific ideas”

The above is a short excerpt from the article “Influence of Arabic and Islamic Philosophy on Judaic Thought” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/arabic-islamic-judaic/

 

Jews and whiskey during prohibition

Who knew that prohibition was good for the Jews?!

The Prohibition, in the United States, was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages, from 1920 to 1933.

Prohibition loopholes

“The first was that [alcohol] enabled the farmer to preserve his fruit … which is to say, to take the fruit crop and preserve it over the winter, which literally meant take the apple. Turn it into hard cider. And the hard cider into apple jack, which was legal in the farm districts across the country. Interestingly, the farm districts were the ones that most supported Prohibition.

“The second one was medicinal liquor. I have a bottle on my shelf at home — an empty bottle — that says Jim Beam, for medicinal purposes only. In 1917, the American Medical Association — supporting Prohibition — said there was no reason at all to use alcohol as a therapeutic remedy of any kind. Then they realized with this loophole that there was an opportunity to make some money. And capitalism abhors a vacuum. Within two or three years, you could go into virtually any city in the country and buy a prescription for $3 from your local physician and then take it to your local pharmacy and go home with a pint of liquor every 10 days. And this is really how many of the large distilleries in Kentucky and the middle of the country stayed in business throughout the Prohibition years.
“The third loophole is sacramental wine. Among the groups who opposed Prohibition were the Catholics and the Jews — very avidly — and not necessarily for religious reasons; I think more for cultural reasons. … Tangentially to that, there was the reality that wine is used in the Catholic sacrament for Communion. … ”

“The Jews needed their sacramental wine for the Sabbath service and other services. They were entitled — under the rules — for 10 gallons per adult per year. … There was no official way to determine who was a rabbi. So people who claimed to be rabbis would get a license to distribute to congregations that didn’t even exist. On the other side of that, one congregation in Los Angeles went from 180 families to 1,000 families within the very first 12 months of Prohibition. You joined a congregation; you got your wine from your rabbi.”

kosher-wine-during-usa-prohibition

Prohibition: Speakeasies, Loopholes And Politics. NPR Fresh Air

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Prohibition allowed for rare exceptions, most notably in the case of religious or medicinal alcohol, and bootleggers took full advantage of the loopholes. Section 6 of the Volstead Act allotted Jewish families 10 gallons of kosher wine a year for religious use. (Unlike the Catholic Church, which received a similar dispensation, the rabbinate had no fixed hierarchy to monitor distribution.) In 1924, the Bureau of Prohibition distributed 2,944,764 gallons of wine, an amount that caused Izzy to marvel at the “remarkable increase in the thirst for religion.” Izzy and Moe arrested 180 rabbis, encountering trouble with only one of them. The owner of a “sacramental” place on West 49th Street refused to sell to the agents because they “didn’t look Jewish enough.” Undeterred, and hoping to prove a point, Izzy and Moe sent in a fellow agent by the name of Dennis J. Donovan. “They served him,” Izzy recalled, “and Izzy Einstein made the arrest.”

Prohibition’s Premier Hooch Hounds, Smithsonian.Com

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The anti-alcohol movement, although politically based in a strange coalition of evangelicals, progressives and women’s suffrage advocates that had recently won women the vote, coincided with the arrival in the United States, between 1880 and 1920, of about 2 million Eastern European Jews, most with limited economic resources. These opposed Prohibition from the start, not least because alcohol was central to their culture. Also by the late 1800s, acculturated Jews were widely represented in the liquor industry. “At first,” said Marni Davis, author of the forthcoming “Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition”, “alcohol offered a way for American Jews to present themselves as the best sorts of Americans, as the ones who consume alcohol regularly but are not drunkards, who participate in the economy in ways that benefit communities and society at large.”

As Prohibitionists touted the evils of drink, it was the Jewish distillers, wholesalers and saloonkeepers who found themselves cast as outsiders. Attacking the liquor industry, “dry” politician John Newton Tillman said: “I am not attacking an American institution. I am attacking mainly a foreign enterprise.” To prove it, he listed distillers’ names: Steinberg, Hirschbaum, Shaumberg.

….Section 6 of the Volstead Act, which allowed Jewish families 10 gallons of kosher wine a year for religious use, left an especially large loophole. For unlike the Catholic Church, which got a similar dispensation, the rabbinate had no fixed hierarchy to oversee distribution. Infractions were rampant.

In 1924, the Bureau of Prohibition distributed 2,944,764 gallons of wine; the American Hebrew marveled at the “rapid growth of Judaism.” Prohibition agent Izzy Einstein — himself a Jew from New York City’s Lower East Side and able to spot a ruse — arrested numerous rabbis for dispensing “sacramental” brandy, crème de menthe, vermouth and champagne. The scam was as common among actual rabbis as among those only claiming to be such: Einstein also arrested rabbis of convenience, named Houlihan and Maguire, as well as African Americans who claimed, according to Okrent, to have recently “got religion in the Hebraic persuasion.”

… This, Okrent says, was bad for the Jews. Reform leaders believed that Section 6 gave the impression that they were not held to a common standard of law, and sought to abolish it. Doctrinal warfare over wine divided Jews by immigrant and economic status and denomination, pitting Orthodox against Reform. The result, as Davis put it, was a “shande for the goyim.”

Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent claimed that Jewish transgressions against Prohibition represented widespread conspiracy against American morals. “The Jew is on the side of liquor,” Ford wrote, “and always has been.” Part of what made this screed horrible was that it was partly true: Okrent estimates that half the bootleggers were Eastern European Jews; as a result, Jews were seen as delinquents who neither understood nor respected American culture. This despite the fact that, Davis says, bootlegging was so common that it could almost be seen as part of the Jews’ Americanization process.

…By the end of Prohibition, so many Americans were involved in producing, selling and consuming alcohol that Jewish participation seems unremarkable. Eventually, the public came around to the view that most Jews held all along: Prohibition, which had begun as anti-immigrant, was now widely seen as anti-American. The start of the Great Depression was the last straw. With the Repeal of Prohibition, passed in 1933, Jews were among those who rerouted their illegal operations into legal channels. Bronfman moved his business to New York, paid a fine for violating the Volstead Act and bought out Newark’s bootleg kings, Zwillman and Joseph Reinfeld. For him and other Jewish bootleggers, Prohibition had ended by providing a path to status and respectability.

The struggle for American Jewish identity was, at a time when both Jews and alcohol were cultural flashpoints, brought into sharper focus by drink. Ridiculous as the Prohibition experiment seems today, its lessons remain relevant. The issue pitted city against country, rich against poor, and immigrant against native born. Released in an America dividing along similar lines, PBS’s “Prohibition” deserves the notice of Jew and non-Jew alike.

‘Prohibition’ Tells Changing Story of Jews in America, by Jenny Hendrix

Movies, books and articles

Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition

by Marni Davis. New York and London: New York University Press, 2012. x + 262 pp.

Let Them Drink and Forget Our Poverty” : Orthodox Rabbis React to Prohibition, By Hannah Sprecher, American Jewish Archives 43,2 (1991) 135-179

PROHIBITION is a three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/

Kosher for Passover Whiskey

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In the Jewish faith, one does not drink whiskey on Pesach (פֶּסַח, Passover.) Whiskey is made from a distilled grain mash, and the halakhah (הֲלָכָה‎, laws) of Pesach forbids Jewish people from consuming any products made from chametz (חָמֵץ ) during this time:

Chametz is any food made from wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye that is either leavened – or even left moist long enough to theoretically become leavened on it’s own.  This rules out the grain mash of almost every whiskey. Among Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) there is a further minhag (מנהג‎‎, custom) to refrain from corn during Pesach, which would rule out even pure corn whiskey.

Food Restrictions on Passover Explained: Chametz and Kitniyot

However, there is growing acceptance among at least some Ashkenazim to accept foods made from corn and other kitniyot ( קִטְנִיּוֹת) on Pesach. So a pure corn whiskey could be kosher l’Pesach. In the United States several are available.

One of these is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey, aged 3 years. Aging is the difference between whiskey and whitedog. When one distills whiskey, the initial product is alcohol, water, and in tiny amounts, nonvolatile organic compounds.  This does not actually become whiskey until it has aged in a charred wood barrel: this lets whiskey react with the wood, creating the molecules characteristic of a good whiskey.  Without the aging, the distilled spirit is just a moonshine called “white dog.”  Since many corn-based products are unaged, finding something aged for 3 years is special.

corn-whiskey-passover

To create a kosher-for-Pesach whiskey the mash bill would have to be chametz free: Either 100% corn – or corn and some other acceptable product, e.g. rice or quinoa. So I began my investigation: Is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey kosher for Pesach?

In the USA, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) defines Corn whiskey as any “Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn and if stored in oak containers stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in used or uncharred new oak containers and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood .”

Now, questions arise which could only be clarified by contacting the manufactuer, the master distiller, and rabbis with a detailed knowledge of the halakhot of kashrut ( כַּשְׁרוּת‎) (“laws of keeping kosher.)  The questions were:

  1. Most “corn whiskies” are not completely corn-based. For instance, “Mellow Corn” is 90% corn, and 10% chametz. Coppersea New York Corn is 80% corn, and 20% chametz. Under Federal labeling laws from the American TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) , “corn whiskey” can be 80% corn, and 20% other grains (incl. wheat, barley and rye). So for this whiskey, is there any wheat, rye, barley or oats, at all? Or is it truly all corn?
  2. What type of barrels was it aged in? Some barrel staves are held together with a glue that uses wheat. Such whiskey would be generally kosher for year round use of course, but it may not be considered as such for Passover
  3. Since this corn whiskey has been aged for 3 years in used barrels, what did these barrels hold previously? Wine, bourbon? And if so, would that matter?

I sent a detailed inquiry to Platte Valley Moonshine, and quickly heard back from them. The representative contacted the master distiller, and let me know the following:

The barrels that it was stored in did not have any wheat in the glue mix.  It is a pure corn whiskey has been aged for three years – in barrels that had previously held kosher certified bourbon! That bourbon liquid itself contains no wheat or gluten, but was distilled from a grain mash of more than 51 percent corn. Now, there was some amount of rye or barley in the grain mash for the original bourbon – none of which makes it through the distilling process itself:

So our pure corn whiskey entered barrels which one held kosher bourbon, that had some chametz as a source.  The next question is, does that matter?  No chametz enters the corn whiskey whatsoever.  Is the presence of residual bourbon in the barrels annulled?

I ran this by several people, including Elie Avitan, who studied at Yeshivat Reishit/Yeshivat Bais Yisroel/Yeshivat Mir.  He then spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia (who received his Semicha in 1991 from Israeli Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, after studying rabbinics at the Shehebar Sephardic Center.) The result. Elie Avitan reports:

I spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia. He said that 100% Corn whiskey that is purchased *before Pesach* is ok to drink on Pesach. This is true even if it was stored in bourbon casks because the flavor transferred from the barrel (as opposed to actual food hametz) is considered to be Halakhically nullified when its source is the same material – bourbon in this case.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first kosher l’Pesach whiskey!  Granted, this is not officially certified as such: as always, on important issues consult with your local rabbi.

Given this, perhas any 100% corn, or 100% seed-based whiskey would be kosher for Passover, which would include:

Corn whiskeys
13th Colony Southern Corn Whiskey
Balcones True Blue 100 Proof, 100% corn whiskey
Balcones True Blue Cask Strength, 100% corn whiskey
Fitch’s Goat 100% Corn Whiskey
Glen Thunder American Corn Whiskey, 100% New York Corn (80% Corn 20% Malted Corn)
Hudson Baby bourbon (look for the 100% corn label)
Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey
Raymond B. 100% Corn Whiskey
Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey
Sipp’n Corn Bourbon, Coppercraft Distillery
Stillhouse Clear Corn Whiskey

Millet whiskey
Koval Single Barrel Millet Whiskey

My evaluation is that this whiskey is kosher Passover, for Jewish people who consume kitniyot on Pesach. But as always, consult your local rav.

Halakhic details

Daniel Sayani explains the halakhah on this issue:

Following the Ashkenazi tradition, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision. Why? In other areas of kashrut, it takes normally a proportion of 1.6% (roughly 1/60) or higher of a non-kosher element (usually additives) to render the whole product non-kosher. For example: a marmalade that contains a non-kosher element in a proportion higher than 1.6% is not kosher. But, if the presence of that element is less than 1.6% of the whole product, then the product is kosher.

On Pesah, however, the rules are stricter. Even the smallest amount of hametz is enough to render the whole food prohibited. Both Sephardim and Ashkenazim agree that the presence of a non-hametz ingredient in a food renders the whole product unfit for Pesah consumption, even if the proportion of that ingredient is as small as 0.001% of the total product.

Sephardic tradition holds, however, that if a hametz ingredient is mixed, accidentally or deliberately, into that food-product before Pesah begins, it will only render the final product as unfit for Pesah if that hametz ingredient is present in a proportion of or above 1.6%.

In other words, if a food made before Pesah contains a hametz element which is less than 1.6% of the total, that food will be kosher for Pesah.

Why? Because before Pesah, we apply the standard kashrut laws of 1.6%, and not the Pesah laws of 0.001%. And once a hametz element smaller than 1.6% is considered neutralized, it never “revives” again. According to the Ashkenazi tradition, however, if a 0.001% hametz element is present, it renders the whole food-product non-suitable for Pesah, regardless of when the food was prepared.

To explain in practical terms: Usually, in the food industry, an element found in a proportion of 1.6% or higher is one of the ingredients of that food-product, most probably an additive. On the other hand, an element present in a proportion of 0.001% is probably a consequence of an accident or a cross-contamination.

Outside kashrut, the presence of a 0.001% element might probably be the case of an allergen, like peanuts-residue, gluten, etc. Therefore, while identify the presence of a 1.6% ingredient is relatively easy, making sure that a 0.001% element is not present is virtually impossible – unless we completely clean and sterilize the factory, restrict the access of any unauthorized person or product; in other words, we make a special kosher for Passover supervision. In that case, the whole area where the food is produced, the machinery, etc., must be sterilized, and a supervisor should be present in the premises to avoid any accidental access of a hametz element, etc. Following the 0.001% rule, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision.

Now we understand why Sephardic Jews are in general more lenient with non-hametz foods, provided the food-product was bought before Pesah. Based on the above mentioned principle, Rabbi Obadia Yosef writes that according to the Sephardic tradition if a food, for example a marmalade, was produced before Pesah, and we know that it does not contain any hametz ingredient in a proportion of 1.6% or above, it will be permitted for Pesah even if it did not have any special supervision for Pesah.

Note: Does this apply to Ashkenazi Jews? In Israel, the custom is for Ashkenazi Jews to follow Sephardic dietary customs when there is an Ashkenazi-Sephardic marriage. Therefore, this includes a large and growing number of religious Jews there. Outside Israel, many Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews – even those who do not eat kitniyot – allow foods with kitniyot derivatives. And internationally, the rabbinical councils of the Conservative/Masorti Jewish movements have officially ruled that Ashkenazim may eat kitniyot on Pesach.

Further reading

“A Teshuvah Permitting Ashkenazim to Eat Kitniyot on Pesah”, by Amy Levin and Avram Israel Reisner, CJLS (Committee on Jewish Law and Standards) November 2015
Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesah, Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, David Golinkin, Vol. 3, pp. 35-56
Nathan Jeffay (1 April 2009). “Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New, Permissive Ruling”
Efrat Rabbi Tilts Against Passover Food Restrictions for Ashkenazi Jews
The Kitniyot Dilemma May Ashkenazim eat rice and legumes on Pesach?
TTB whiskey definitions

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