L’Chaim! But is it kosher?

Do liquors require kosher certification?

We all know that wine requires reliable kosher supervision. But what about whiskies, vodkas and other alcoholic beverages? Can I buy liquor at the duty free shops without being concerned about their kashrut status? Is it permitted to drink alcoholic beverages in a bar without a kashrut certificate?

In the past, it was assumed that liquors such as whiskey, arak and ouzo do not require any special kosher certification. According to Kosharot, that would be an entirely false assumption today.  Kosharot lists three main areas of concern that would mandate kosher supervision in liquors:

  • Yayin nesech or stam yeinam (wine produced by Gentiles). The alcohol in some liquors is produced from wine or wine residues. Since unsupervised wine is not kosher, neither are these liquors.
  • Additives such as flavorings, food colorings, milk and enzymes. These additives often originate from animals – including insects! Liquors sometimes contain milk which not only renders the liquor milchig (not to be consumed with or after meat), but is in itself problematic. Unsupervised milk is chalav akum, and depending on which country the milk is produced in, it may not even qualify as chalav stam (unsupervised milk from countries with strict government regulations) which is permitted by the more lenient opinions.
  • Chadash and Chametz. Liquors produced from grain (such as whiskey) are obviously chametz and forbidden on Pesach. To qualify as a ‘Kosher for Passover’ liquor, strict supervision is mandatory. Furthermore, many authorities hold that grain products are subject to the laws of chadash ( grain harvested before Passover ) even outside of Israel. Those who follow that opinion would require supervision to assure that these liquors are not ‘chadash’.

The Kosharot site lists these examples of liquors commonly  (erroneously) held by the public as being always kosher:

  • Arak Haddad – contains alcohol from grapes (stam yeinam)
  • Ouzo – made from grapes ( stam yeinam )
  • PinaColada – Dairy, problem with additives (emulsifiers ).
  • Sheridan’s – Dairy, problem with additives (emulsifiers ).

Even liquors that are tagged as kosher on some kosher listings, have a very low standard of kashrut and often rely on halachic leniencies which are not generally accepted. The following excerpt from an article published by the OU, elaborates on this point.

“To kosher consumers, the obvious question is, “What are blenders [flavors commonly added to whiskies – ed] made of?” There are thousands of flavor chemicals, and any one of them can be used in a blender […]. Of course, some of these ingredients are not kosher. […] There are those in the kosher certification industry who maintain that blenders do not pose any kashrut problems. They base their belief on the following faulty reasoning: Since a blender is not drinkable at 14 percent, it is nifsal meachilat kelev—not suitable for a dog to consume—and therefore blended whiskey need not have certification. This is not the position taken by the Orthodox Union. The term nifsal meachilat kelev applies to food that is inherently bad at any concentration. A dog, for instance, would probably not eat a few ounces of straight garlic powder, but that does not render garlic powder nifsal meachilat kelev. This is because as a spice, garlic powder is tasty. The halachic principle of nifsal meachilat kelev applies to the inherent quality of the food, not how the food tastes in one concentration or another. Others in the field of kosher certification maintain that even if a blender is not kosher, it is batul (nullified) because of the halachic principle of batul beshishim, that is, the amount of the non-kosher item is less than one-sixtieth of the whole amount. However, according to the Talmud, there are cases where batul beshishim does not apply. Specifically, the Talmud mentions that “avidah leta’ama”—items that impart very strong flavors (such as spices)—cannot be nullified. Thus, were one, for example, to insert non-kosher garlic into a pot of kosher soup, the garlic would not be nullified, even if there were 200 times more water than garlic. The position of the Orthodox Union is that blenders fall into the category of avidah leta’ama since they too impart a strong flavor. Thus, blenders cannot be batul and can therefore pose significant kashrut problems.”

The OU article concludes:
In light of the various issues raised, it is worthwhile for the kosher consumer to demand only kosher-certified alcoholic beverages.”

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