Whisky and Kashrut

by John Chart
kashrut of whisky
kashrut of whisky
kashrut of whisky
kashrut of whisky

1.    LONDON BETH DIN   (as in Kashrus Guide 2013) pontificates:

  • A)  Scotch   -    whether blended or single malt  -   if label does not mention sherry/wine casks  -    no problem

 

  • B) Matured in sherry/wine casks   -  weight of poskim  does not forbid consumption

 

  • C) Double or second maturation which may enhance wine flavour  -  “some may wish to avoid”

 

  • D) No additives except caramel

 

GENERALLY   -   all scotch kosher Note  -    the above does not apply to Irish whiskey  -   which is a separate topic.

 

2.  THE  HALACHIC  PROBLEM

All of the the following (save the general conclusion) is based on “Sherry Casks  -  A halachic perspective by R. Akiva Niehaus of the Chicago Community Kollel.

 

  • A.   Wine/sherry absorbed in casks is “stam yeinam”  -     handled by a gentile.   Forbidden to yiden  “to discourage intermarriage”.

 

  • B. If water or beer or liquid other than wine is stored in non-kosher wine barrel  -   that liquid is permitted  (Shulchan Aruch;  Gemara in Avodah Zara)     Why  -   because wine ruins and detracts from beer flavour.    Thus any liquid which is ruined when mixed with wine may be stored in wine barrel and consumed.

 

  • C. Is scotch in same category?   Is scotch ruined when mixed with wine?   The weight of opinion  =   no!    The fact that distillers trumpet the use of sherry casks surely indicates intent to effect “blios” (absorption) of wine actually to enhance the scotch.

 

  • D. Note:  generally a non-kosher taste absorbed into walls of a vessel becomes stale (“pagum”) after 24 hours .   But this leniency does not apply to sherry casks, for wine remains potent and improves with age.

 

 

3.  BITUL  (NULLIFICATION)

  • A.  Preliminary point  -    in discussing “bitul”  do we assume absorption of the wine into the inner layer ( “klipah”)  of the barrel, or into its whole thickness (“kli”)?    Opinion is divided.  There is a weight of opinion which pronounces  -   kli  -  full thickness.    This is the more stringent opinion of the Shach and others.   This is relevant to the principles of “bitul”.

 

  • B. Generally, if  a non-kosher ingredient becomes mixed with kosher, the non-K  is nullified if the non-K is less than a 60th of the K.     This is “bitil b’shishim”.    BUT the Shulchan Aruch states   -   for non-kosher  wine  -   only a 6th (“bitul b’sheish”).

 

  • C. Source for bitul b’sheish  -   a Gemara   relates   -   if one had two cups of wine  -  one permitted and one not – and he diluted each with the proper amount of water to dilute its strength,  and then mixed the two cups together, we view the permitted wine as if not there, and the water overwhelms the prohibited wine and nullifiers it.

 

  • (Gemara Shabbos states  -  the standard rate of dilution in Talmudic times is one part wine to 3 parts water).     So  -   if we view the permitted wine as if not there,  the

  • Prohibited wine is nullified in the combined water  -    which is only 6 times greater.(Raavad and others so opine).

 

  • D. But does bitul b’sheish apply only to wine/water, or can it apply to wine/other liquids?    The weight of opinion, including Moshe Feinstein  rules in favour of b’sheish   -   the more lenient ruling.     But, he adds,  a ba’al nefesh (highly scrupulous person) might require bitul b’shishim.

 

 

4.  LIMITS TO BITUL B’SHEISH

  • A.   If specifically added for taste purposes   (“avida l’ta’ama”)   even a minute amount of forbidden spice renders the food posul   (the Rama).      Even the minute quantity imports a detectable flavour.

 

  • B.  What about wine absorptions into scotch?     Q:     Why do distillers prefer sherry casks?    Various reasons given  -  to add colour to the naturally light-coloured scotch;

 

  • or to  inculcate a new blend of flavours;   or  -   the flavour of the wood.

 

  • C. Alternatively it is argued (again by Moshe Feinstein) that the stringency of  Avida l’ta’ama does not apply to wine absorbed in scotch  -   for once wine is bitul b’sheish it loses its status as wine and is treated as “kiyuha” -   acid.     The LBD follows R Moshe Feinstein

 

  • D. Another stringency   -    one may not drink any beverage of a gentile if customary darkon b’kach) to add non Kosher  wine to it  (Rashba).     But the weight of opinion is that this rule is trumped by the principle of bitul b’sheish (Rama).

 

  • E. Another chumra (stringency).   What if non-kosher wine deliberately mixed  (“bitul issur l’chatchila”) ?    Weight of opinion  -   prohibited only if mixed for a particular Jewish customer   -   not for the public at large.   As the latter applies, the chumra of bitul issur l’chatchila does not   (M. Feinstein  -  Igros Moshe)

 

 

5.  BIG QUESTION  -  THE SHERRY CASKS RATIO

  • A.   Assuming we adopt the  more stringent “kli” absorption ruling,  it is necessary to evaluate the volume of liquid absorbed into the walls of the barrel as against the volume of scotch within the barrel.

 

  • B. Shulchan Aruch  -   since it is impossible to ascertain the precise volume of non-kosher taste absorbed into the walls, we must consider the walls to be completely imbued  with the non-kosher taste.

 

  • C.  Assessment of a particular Spanish barrel shows  -   internal volume 511 L, but external volume  -  647 L  -    which gives a liquid-to-wood ratio of 3.76:1.

 

  • So bitul b’sheish is not present.       The accepted average is 4.25:1   -   still falls short.

 

  • D. Conclusion  -   generally problematic.

 

 

6.   VARIETIES

  • A.  Sherry casks mentioned on label   -    problem applies only to scotch labelled as 100% sherry casks    eg  “exclusively matured” or “finished”  or “double matured” therein.

 

  • B. Mixture of sherry and bourbon casks  -   more lenient because only the portion that originated in sherry casks requires nullification.   That which originated in bourbon casks does not  .   Any scotch contained in mixture of such casks is assumed to have at least sheish against the non-kosher wine.

 

  • C. No mention on label of sherry casks   -   although such casks may have been used.  A doubt exists and when in doubt  leniency applies   -    “safek d’rabbannan l’hakkel”.

 

  • D. Blended scotch  -   consisting mainly of grain whisky  -   May contain a combination of whiskies from over 40 different malt and grain distilleries.   Generally not a problem. Generally accepted that only a small % of grain whisky is aged in sherry casks

 

7.  MY GENERAL CONCLUSION 

  • A)     From these authorities the only questionable dram is the single malt scotch whisky  whose bottle declares   -

     Matured exclusively, or

     Finished

     Double mature in wine/sherry casks

 

  • B)     All else  -   permitted!

Compiled by Chart JD  -   May 2013

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