Keep it Kosher: Understanding Kosher Wines & Spirits

Kosher,

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The subject of kosher wine and spirits can be somewhat difficult to navigate. Plenty of myths, incorrect assumptions and misinformation can make it difficult to understand just what kosher means and what items fall into this category. Starting with the word itself, kosher is an English pronunciation of a Hebrew word that means “fit.” Kosher food items are “fit for consumption,” meaning they conform to Jewish dietary law. Then there are pareve or parve items. These are “neutral” foods: made with neither meat nor dairy items. Jewish dietary laws forbid consuming mixtures of dairy and meat, and also prohibit the consumption of meat and milk during the same meal. Since pareve items are neutral, they can be consumed with either meat or dairy.

Another important term to know is mevushal, which means “cooked.” This boils down to history and tradition: pagans offered wine to their gods and Jewish people didn’t want to consume wine that may have been used in such rituals. Kosher wine must contain only kosher ingredients and only be handled by Jewish people. Since pagans wouldn’t use boiled wine in their rituals, rabbis decreed that Jewish people could consume wine served from non-Jews if it had been boiled. Today, rabbis have decided that flash pasteurization is good enough for wine to be labeled mevushal. These wines aren’t considered to be as good as kosher wines, but they’re an option that adheres to kosher dietary restrictions.

When it comes to alcohol beverages, those who don’t keep kosher are probably aware of 2 popular wine brands: Manischewitz and Kedem. In all honesty, that was the extent of my own kosher wine knowledge until  just a few years back. I also had no idea that spirits could be kosher, pareve or mevushal. When I did learn about kosher spirits, I also discovered that, unfortunately, most major brands don’t include classification ratings on their labels. However, I did discover lists of kosher alcohol items as created by rabbis, such as those curated by the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc) and Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate (JSOR).

In order for bourbon to be considered kosher, it cannot be flavored or aged in wine casks unless it has been specifically given a certification. Maker’s Mark and Maker’s 46, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s, and Angel’s Envy are considered by the cRc to be fit for consumption.

As with bourbon, Canadian whisky isn’t recommended unless it’s unflavored and hasn’t been finished in a wine cask. Crown Royal, Crown Royal Black and Crown Royal Reserve, and Wiser’s (unflavored) are acceptable.

The cRc views rye whiskey as generally not requiring certification, unless it has been flavored or aged in a wine cask.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Irish whiskey isn’t considered kosher. This is due to the many types of cask finishes and multiple maturations. The cRc is very strict when it comes to Irish whiskey and the choices are very few and far between: Knappogue Castle 12 Year and The Irishman 12 Year.

Now, it may seem odd, but Scotch whisky is considered largely acceptable. Even though the same concerns as Irish whiskey exist, the list of acceptable Scotches is much, much larger. Included are Ardbeg 10 Year (with certification), Bruichladdich The Laddie 16, all varieties of Johnnie Walker, The Glenlivet 12 and 21 (with certification), and Springbank 12 Year Old Green.

Rum is also widely acceptable. In fact, even the spiced varieties are permitted as long as they carry certification. This means that Bacardi Gold, Select and Superior, Captain Morgan White, basically every variety of Cruzan, just about every Don Q, and Myer’s Legend, Original Dark and Platinum White are permissible.

Gin is a more complicated matter than that of, say, whiskey. Unflavored gin is, as you may have guessed due to the stance on flavored whiskeys, acceptable. That is, unless it’s produced from wine, milk, lactose, whey or grapes. Also, gins from France, New Zealand and Australia are iffy because many contain added flavors. Tanqueray London Dry Gin, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire London Dry and Bombay Sapphire East, and Bulldog Gin (when bearing the KIR certification) are considered kosher.

Vodka carries with it the same restrictions as gin. Pretty much every Absolut product (with certification) is permitted, along with unflavored Belvedere and Chopin, Tito’s, Grey Goose, Grey Goose L’Orange, Citron and Poire, and unflavored Ketel One. Every Smirnoff, Stoli, and Svedka vodka is also permitted, with certification.

Finally, we have tequila. Blanco/white/silver tequilas are considered kosher without certification but reposado, anejo and extra anejo, due to the possible addition of flavors, colors and glycerin, need certification to be acceptable. 1800 Silver, Don Julio Blanco, and Casa Noble Crystal are all permitted. Interestingly, Patron Silver, Reposado and Anejo, along with Roca Patron Silver, Reposado and Anejo, are kosher even without certification, according to the cRc.

And there you have it! Not excellent news for fans of Irish whiskey but vodka and tequila fans should have a relatively simple time keeping kosher. As far as wine is concerned, finding kosher products is fairly easy: just look for kosher symbols on the label, along with offerings from brands such as the much respected Hagafen and their reserve label Prix, the acclaimed Yarden, Israel’s premier Domaine du Castel, boutique Israeli winery Dalton, the kosher-dedicated Spanish producer Elvi, and also Herzog, Goose Bay, and Galil Mountain. Even popular cava producer Freixenet offers a kosher bubbly with their Excelencia Kosher Brut.