I confess to a modicum of ambivalence every time I encounter another single-malt Scotch whisky that has obtained kashrut certification. The current example before me is the very nice and very drinkable Glenfiddich 14 Year Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve, certified kosher l’mehadrin (think of it as super kosher) by the Manchester Beth Din. That kashrut authority has certified several other alcoholic products from the same parent company, the Scottish and family owned William Grant & Sons.
On the one hand, it settles the kashrut concerns of those with doubts — undoubtedly a good thing. On the other hand, it arguably gives additional momentum to the slow but steady drift of communal standards towards greater stringency — arguably a good thing provided nobody is unnecessarily burdened or, far worse, squeezed out. But it is a tricky balance. Those motivated towards personal piety and stringency will find a way to make it happen, but those struggling to tread water are often easily sunk. OK, so we are talking about booze here.
The Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah (114:4) forbids the purchase of various alcoholic beverages from non-Jews when the cost of their wine is less than those beverages “because we are concerned lest they mix wine [with the beverages].” A little later in this section, the Shulchan Aruch (114:30) admonishes: “One must be careful to examine and investigate whether gentiles who make alcoholic beverages from honey put residue of wine in [those beverages].” So even though the raw ingredients of whisky, like the raw ingredients of rudimentary mead (honey-based “wine”), are fine, there is always the chance that a nonkosher ingredient has been blended in.
According to the standards of such kashrut authorities as the OU, the Star-K, the CRC and, of course the local Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington, all Scotch whiskies are acceptable unless it is known that the companies use wine casks in their production because the wine casks are considered problematic, and so such Scotch whiskies are not recommended for kosher consumers without kosher certification.
In opposition to this position, however, there are widely respected authorities, such as the Kashruth Authority of the London Beth Din (KLBD), who permit all Scotch whisky even when its marketing packaging makes a point of informing consumers about the use of wine casks. They rule that the nonkosher wine in those casks is not a significant problem is this context. The KLBD publicly states that its decision is based on related rulings of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z”l.
Most recently, the Kashruth Council of Canada (COR) announced its official policy to “now allow the use of Scotches aged in sherry/wine casks at COR-certified venues and events.” According to Rav Tsvi Heber of COR, this decision was based on a ruling by Rav Shlomo Miller, Av Beis Din and Rosh Kollel of the Kollel Avreichim Toronto, and Av Beis Din of the Va’ad Harabonim of Lakewood. Rav Miller was a close student of Rav Moshe Feinstein.
In contrast, consider the words of the late American Torah scholar, Rav Yisroel Belsky (Aug. 22, 1938 – Jan. 28, 2016), of blessed memory, in his book, Shulchan Halevi (p. 121), “In most cases, the quantities of the questionable nonkosher ingredients are batul (nullified), but the time has definitely come to subject the liquor industry to the same rigorous supervision that is applied to all other food and beverage industries. At this point, it is certainly recommended that one look for kosher certification on all hard liquor.” Rav Belsky was also a student of Rav Moshe Feinstein.
There isn’t space here to do the kashrut issues justice; regular readers know that I side with the London Beth Din, and not simply because my last name is London. Those interested should seek guidance and instruction from their local kashrut authority. Share a l’chaim of this l’mehadrin certified Scotch:
Glenfiddich 14 Year Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent ABV; $49.99): This whisky was matured for 14 years in ex-bourbon casks of American Oak and then finished in a deeply charred virgin or new American oak barrel, resulting in aromas and flavors of strong malty grains, ripe cherries, vanilla, caramel, toffee, candied fruit and cinnamon, with a long and warm finish. Don’t know if it’ll attract away bourbon drinkers, as presumably intended, but it is mighty tasty. L’Chaim!