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CAN WE AFFORD LETTUCE – Jewish Journal, January 25, 2012





INFUSION – The New Challenge for Bourbon and Rye –


      Distillers are expanding their market with premium small-batch and single-barrel products, along with flavor infusions like honey, cherry and spice.

Many whiskey consumers relish the fruit of industry innovation — infused flavors, like cherry and honey, and the new finishes from port barrels. But, for the kosher consumer, these “advances” represent a major change in the arena of alcoholic beverages, a real “game changer”. Many kosher consumers are now seeking kosher-certified alcoholic beverages rather than relying on the imperfect system of the “kosher grapevine”. Indeed, at a recent meeting of AKO (Association of Kashrus Organizations) the kosher agencies embraced a stricter policy vis-à-vis alcoholic beverages.

Jack Daniel’s, the whiskey industry leader (produced in Lynchburg, TN), takes pride in calling itself Tennessee whiskey. But, just like bourbon, it is made mostly from corn and aged in new charred-oak barrels. The distinctive flavor comes from the “charcoal mellow” process, which involves dropping the whiskey through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. “It imparts a distinctive smoothness,” Jack Daniel’s says. “Charcoal mellowing makes Jack Daniel’s what it is — a Tennessee whiskey, not a bourbon.”

In April, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey rolled out Tennessee Honey, a 70-proof proprietary honey liqueur blended with Old No. 7 Jack Daniel’s Whiskey. To the untrained, this appears to be Jack Daniel’s, a whiskey. But, in fact, it is a liqueur and very much requires kosher certification, which it does not have.

In just a few months dollar and volume sales for Tennessee Honey exceeded all of its flavored peers combined (Wild Turkey American Honey, Red Stag and Evan Williams Honey and Cherry), reported Vivien N. Azer, an analyst at Citi Investment Research.

Jim Beam introduced Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon in 2009, which broadened the bourbon market to include even those who are normally not bourbon drinkers. Beam will soon add two flavors to the line: Red Stag Spiced and Red Stag Honey Tea. But these flavored bourbons are not as innocuous as a pure bourbon, and should remain “hands off” for the present time.

In April, Louisville Distillery Company introduced Angel’s Envy, a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey aged for at least four years and then transferred into used port barrels [wine casks] for four to six months for a port barrel finish. Many consider a liquor aged in port or sherry casks to be halachicly prohibited.

The New Beers

Until today, many consider beer innocuous, although some are limiting themselves to kosher-certified varieties due to the following issues.

The processes for brewing, distilling, and aging beer is changing rapidly. There is a growing demand these days for sweeter, more flavorful and more exotic-sounding drinks. Craft breweries and small distilleries are flooding the market with specialty blends and new ingredients. Craft beer is the fastest growing segment of the spirits industry.

We now have beer that tastes like pizza because it actually contains mashed up pizza, bacon beer with real bacon fat flavoring, oyster beer with real oysters brewed right in. Lactose sugar (dairy) is used in the making of some beers.

Full Sail Brewing Company, since 1996, has been aging their beer in bourbon barrels. Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter is a blend of three barrel varieties. The Full Sail company was advised by Macallan to use these barrels. Macallan is the first known maker of a single malt aged in sherry casks. So far, it is bourbon barrels that are being used. The first beer company to use sherry casks will claim a special taste, unique among the others.

Barnivore.com is a website geared to the vegans who will refrain from any beer that contains ingredients derived from animal sources. They list a goodly number of beers to avoid due to the use of certain agents (not ingredients) in the making of beer.

At the present time, it is the opinion of most kashrus agencies in this country to continue to allow domestic beers without kosher certification. That is referring to the challenges of filtering agents and other non-kosher items in the production of beer (which do not appear on the label). However, the use of wine casks for beer making could be considered unacceptable to most, if not all, kashrus agencies.


Today, Vodka can be made from wine or be infused with wine, or it can be dairy. Non-flavored vodka made in this country is considered acceptable, but watch the label carefully. Avoid the words grapes, wine, milk, whey, and lactose. Idol Vodka is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from Burgundy, France. Ciroc “Snap Frost” Vodka is made from Mauzac Blanc grapes from the Gaillic region of France and Ugni Blanc grapes from the Cognac region of France. These vodkas are not kosher.


Scotch is increasingly being aged in wine casks. Some kosher consumers have started to look for kosher certification while others rely on reading the label. If there is no claim to having used sherry or port wine casks for the scotch they will imbibe. However, today’s language describing the use of wine casks is a bit more broad.

Consumers wishing to avoid scotch aged in wine casks should look for the following on the bottle: double or triple finish, double or triple maturation, dual casks or finish, European finish, French finish, Madeira finish, or the use of the words port, sherry, sauterne, or cognac.