Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kosher Whisky, Part II: Sherry

This is the second of a 2-part series on whisky, its production, and potential Kashrus issues. If you haven't read the first post, I would highly recommend doing so before reading this post - everything will just make more sense. Again, read Part I first.

Aging and Maturation: Part II

All scotch whisky is stored in oak casks. It is the only type of wood that can withstand the years of having a liquid inside of it. On top of that is the fact that oak plays an important part in the flavor of that whisky that you and I drink. It is generally thought that 60-70% of the flavor of any expression can be attributed to the oak in which it is matured. As previously mentioned, whisky is matured in oak casks that have previously held another beverage. About 90% of scotch is matured casks that previously held bourbon (which can be either American Oak or European Oak), and a number of the remaining 10% are aged in casks that previously held sherry. To give you a frame of reference, about 300,000-400,00 ex-bourbon casks are acquired every year for maturation purposed, with about only 18,000 sherry casks. The truth is, using bourbon casks is a fairly recent concept and has sharply increased in use over the last century due to the declining production of sherry, and something to do with the Spanish civil war in the 1930's - I'm not clear on the details).

OK - this next point is very important to understand. Most distilleries use a combination of bourbon and whisky casks, but, as the numbers show, the majority are likely to be bourbon casks. Let's take an example: Glenfiddich 12. X number of casks are produced and aged for a good number of years, and then all of the casks that they wish to you use for Glenfiddich 12 are poured into a vat (the youngest casks will be 12 years old - many will be older). The whisky in the vat is then diluted and chill-filtered and then bottled. But, let's not forget: an overwhelming majority of all expressions (different scotches) from all distilleries use a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. Therefore, in an overwhelming majority of scotch that you drink (and which the Star-K approves!), there is some sherry casking involved. Notable exceptions to this rule (that there is at least a minimal amount of sherry involved) are distilleries that exclusively caskry caks (ie, Glendronach and Macallan - although Macallan recently came out with a Fine Oak line which is a combination of sherry and bourbon casks, in response to the increase in price to attain sherry casks) and distilleries and specific bottlings that use only bourbon casks (ie, all Laphroaig, Glenmorangie 10, Ardbeg 10, Glenlivet 12).

Finishing

There is a recent trend in whisky called finishing. Finishing is a process whereby the whisky is removed from the original cask in which it was matured, and transferred and finished (for a period of 6 months-2 years) in a new cask that previously held another spirit (ie, sherry, rum, cognac, port, Madeira, Burgundy, etc.). Obviously, any kashrus issue one has with being matured in sherry casks would have to be addressed regarding finishing as well. Scotches that are good examples of being finished are the Balvenie Doublewood 12 (one of my favorites) which starts off in American Oak and is subsequently transferred to Sherry oak; and Glenmorangie 12 (Madeira, Port, Burgundy, sherry).

Species of Oak used for Wine and Whisky making:

Quercus Alba, White American Oak (this is what 90% of whiskies are stored in)

Quercus Petraea, Sesille Oak - Europe (found most notably in France, but is not used extensively for whisky - the most notable exception is the Glenlivet 15 French Oak, which is aged in this type of wood)

Quercus Robur - AKA Spanish Oak (what sherry is aged in) - It should noted here that it is widely known that Spanish oak has a larger influence on the whisky than the actual sherry that it previously held

Kashrus and Sherry Casks

Rabbi Pinchas Teitz first reported that there may be sherry wine in some blended whiskies (he claimed up to 2.5% - which would be a problem if you hold like batel b'shshim) and that the distilleries and the bottles fail to report this information. Furthermore, he reported that in some instances glycerine was used as a smoothing agent in whisky. R' Yitzchak Yaakov Weisz notes these issues in his Minchas Yitzchak (II, no. 28). Note that R' Teitz first reported a potential issue with blended whisky (which, remember, is a blend of whiskies from different distilleries). It would then follow that single malt scotch that is finished in sherry (or other non-kosher spirits) or aged exclusively in sherry would pose a larger problem, because by blended scotch, only a percentage of the casks are sherry casks (of which he heard reports of 2.5% being sherry wine); but by these certain single malts, all of the scotch involved has been infused with sherry (whether on the maturing level, or just the finishing level). To review thus far: we have issues to deal with regarding blended scotch (which, at 2.5% is not batel b'shishim) and definitely with those single malts matured or finished in sherry.

R' Teitz posed his question to R' Moshe Feinstein, and R' Moshe has 3 teshuvos on the topic (Yoreh Deah 1: 62-64). Below are the issues that R' Moshe deals with and I have added any distinctions that can be made between single malts and blends (although, R' Moshe was asked specifically about blends). I do not plan to go through the lamdus of his positions; just the conclusions.

Batel B'Shishim vs. Sheish

We know that as a general rule liquids are batel (nullified) b'shishim. However, the gemara tell us that wine loses its status of wine not b'shishim, but rather, b'sheish (6). Some say that while this is true that is loses the status of wine b'sheish (and you would therefore make a she'hakol), that doesn't mean the wine goes through the batel process making the whisky permissible to drink. R' Moshe said different, and at the end of the day, he said that this wine is batel b'sheish. Regarding the particular single malts vs. blends, we established before that there would be more of an issue with the single malts. That being said, since R' Moshe said that the wine is batel b'sheish, that would require there being more than 16% wine in the whisky, which, even for single malts, is definitely not a problem.

Errors of Omission

R' Moshe was asked if we need to be worried whether we have to worry that distilleries are using sherry casks even if they do not explicitly say so (as they are not required to do so by law). R' Moshe responded that we do not need to assume that there is sherry involved in the process, and this makes sense when looking at the sheer lack of sherry casks used today. He does go on to say, however, that if you know for a fact that they use sherry, this heter does not apply, but that you could still rely on the 1st heter of batel b'sheish. No differences between single malt and blends.

Ein M'vatlin Issur L'Chatchila

By the rules of Bitul, the thing being nullified actually changes status from being 100% prohibited to 100% non-prohibited. However, there is a catch - that one cannot do this on purpose. If a little milk spills in my chulent, it is batul - but it is forbidden for me to do this on purpose. R' Moshe was asked to comment on the fact that this is exactly what the distilleries are doing - being m'vatel an issur l'chatchila. R' Moshe answers that that is only a law by Jews and that as long as the factory (he spells out factory in Yiddish) owner isn't Jewish, there is no problem. Again, no difference between single malts and blends.

Glycerine

R' Moshe says that the Glycerine involved has no flavor and that the Rabbonim "B'Medinah" aren't machmir on this and he sees no reason to forbid it. In conversations with Kevin Erskine, author of http://www.thescotchblog.com/, glycercine may be used, although he was not aware of which distilleries use it, and if this information is even public. Others in the industry have told me that glycerine is no longer used.

Imparting Taste

We know that the rules of bitul do not apply when one can taste the forbidden substance. In the chulent scenario, if I could taste the milk in the chulent, even if by numbers it would be batul, it is forbidden to eat. R' Moshe address the question in responsa 63 by giving a mashul: many times people may add a drop of wine/grape juice to their water to sweeten it up - certainly you can taste the difference in the water, but this doesn't necessarily mean that you taste WINE - you taste something, but not wine. Therefore, by whisky, while sherried whiskies certainly have a unique taste to them, R' Moshe permits the sherry due to the fact that, although you taste something, it isn't the taste of sherry. Also, as mentioned before (and verified with Kevin Erskine who has spoken with people at length on this issue), in reality very little sherry ever ends up making its way into the whisky - the unique taste of the whisky is largely due to the Spanish Oak, and not the sherry which the cask previously held.

Nowadays

The Star-K (Baltimore) and the CRC (Chicago) are machmir and say that any scotch exclusively matured or finished in sherry (or port, etc.) is "not recommended" It seems to me that the issue they are most caught up with is the batel b'sheish vs. batel b'shishim matter. In their defense, while R' Moshe permits drinking this sherry whisky (and said that he, himself, even had had it when offered to him by a ba'al habayis), a "Ba'al Nefesh" should be machmir due to the large number of issues that do exist. Personally, I think R' Moshe says this just out of anivus and reverence to those that argue on his position, but that's just me. I'm no Rabbi, but it seems that which ever way you want to chop it, you have who to rely on. IMHO, those who want to be machmir and refrain need not do so unless they know for sure that a whisky is aged/finished in a sherry cask. If you truly want to be a ba'al nefesh and be machmir, you would need to refrain from all whisky except Laphroaig, Glenmorangie 10, Ardbeg 10, Glenlivet 12, as these are the only whiskies that guarantee they use 0 sherry casks in maturing/finishing.

Sources


Finally, I highly recommend you all check out The Scotch Blog, it's good stuff. Also, I have left out many technical details that may bore you. But, if you have further questions about the process, let me know, and I'll answer you if I know the answer, or find out from someone that does.

27 Comments:

Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

i heard R' Herschel Schachter speak on this topic. He explained that R' Moshe's position was that Sherry casks are used because Sherry is very effective at moderating the taste of the oak. Therefore, even if the Sherry does impart taste, it's 'nosein ta'am lifgam' because the distillers don't want their whisky tasting like sherry.

1:07 PM, June 23, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Thanks for the ha'arah. They definitely don't want their whisky tasting like sherry itself, but to many there is something to be said for the taste that the Spanish oak and sherry give to the spirit.

It is my understanding that, historically, they aged it in whatever they could get their hands on, and often times this was a sherry cask.

1:15 PM, June 23, 2006

 
Blogger platypotamus said...

Laphroaig is phenomenal. very peaty. definitely give it a taste, if you get a chance.

11:13 AM, July 05, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Thanks for the advice. I have had Laphroaig before, but I just came seem to appreciate it, as well as Lagavulin. I've recently branched out to a couple of Islays, namely Bruichladdich and Bowmore.

11:16 AM, July 05, 2006

 
Blogger Alan said...

Hi, I enjoyed your post. I'm not Jewish, but found the kosher angle on scotch whisky to be very interesting. Personally, I really like single malts with the sherry cask finish. I've learned to really appreciate the Islays as well. I just did a post on the subject.

2:12 PM, July 05, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IS THE PURE GRAIN MATURED IN SHERRY CASK

2:25 PM, August 05, 2006

 
Anonymous Aryeh said...

Fantastic post! I just returned from Scotland where I toured the Edradaur distillery which they claim is the smallest distillery in Scotland (only 3 people work there and they produce a very small amount of whiskey a year using only the traditional methods -- which to be honest, I was not completely sure of the distinctions, but certainly their equipment seems to be quite old, turn-of-the century). They have a number of whiskeys that have a wine finish (they even have a 12 year with a Bordeaux finish) and I wasn't quite sure whether to buy it. I had heard of the sherry cask contreversy before but have never really looked into it. Now I know the details. Thanks for your help!

10:58 PM, August 19, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Aryeh, Thanks for reading. I've never tried Edradour, but I'll have to check it out. Oh, and FYI, all whisky made in Scotland is spelled whisky, not whiskey.

12:45 AM, August 20, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sherry, a Spanish wine produced in Jerez, Spain, is not kosher. Since sherry is produced by a non-Jew, and there is no rabbinical supervision, the wine cannot be labeled kosher."

Shouldn't this say, "Most sherry"? I thought there was a kosher sherry out there.

10:40 AM, November 13, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Yes, anon, you are right. There very well may be kosher sherry out there. There's nothing inherently non-kosher about the ingredients or the production process of sherry, but presumably all of the casks that scotch is aged in once stored non-kosher sherry. Or, at least that is the presumption which we must assume...

10:45 AM, November 13, 2006

 
Anonymous Rabbi Zvi said...

Two things : Thanks this is a great post. It's succinct and outlines all the information. I'm giving a shiur on this at Limmud this month - http://www.limmud.org - and of course a tasting.
Second - Sherry does exist Kosher - Tio Pepe has a kosher variety under the London Beth Din's hechsher. It's worth a taste - very dry but unusually tastey. I am hoping they'll do a Harvey's Bristol Cream under hechsher.

Many thanks

Rabbi Zvi.

9:07 AM, December 11, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Thanks for the comment, R' Zvi. Yes, I was aware that there is such thing as Kosher sherry, but we must assume for all intents and purposes that the casks aging whisky are those which held non-kosher sherry, following the principle of "Basar Rov".

9:14 AM, December 11, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think R. Teitz's question was that actual wine was mixed with blended whisky, not just that a small percentage of the scotch may have been sherry aged. Therefore, I am not sure that Sherry aging is more chomur than his question.

9:33 AM, September 06, 2007

 
Anonymous BJY said...

Just found and read Part 2 and noticed the dates of your postings. You're probably a lawyer by now, or perhaps you just took the bar exam. Either way, good luck!
BJY

11:03 AM, August 01, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One issue that is touched upon, but not driven to a rational conclusion, is the intent behind storage in sherry (and other) casks. The point is that intent to influence the flavour profile is always present. The influence of the cask can be detected by non-experts.

Therefore it seems to me the importance of batel b'shishim or batel b'shesh is essentially irrelevant.

The issue is intent to influence flavour by the action on known non-kosher sherry.

In this issue-avoidance, The important number that comes to mind is eight, as in "shminiot b'avir".

4:57 AM, October 22, 2008

 
OpenID joshuaelondon said...

Just came across this again while doing a google search, and thought I'd chime in here.

Anon, your point has been raised in the Halachic literature and was responded to by Reb. Moshe (some of which was explicitly mentioned by Alan in his above posting). The batel b'shishim vs batel b'shesh debate is only relevant among those authorities who allow for a heter based on nullification. There are, however, those who maintain that nullification is not permitted “even in a thousand” parts if (a) the stam yeinam is noseyn ta’am, and thus wine casks are used because they impart a discernible flavor (le ta’ama avida), and/or (b) if the stam yeinam is an essential ingredient that is customarily used in the production of whisky, (davar ha-maamid). This, I think, is the crux of your point about the “intent to influence flavour by the action on known non-kosher sherry” being more important than any debate about nullification. Right?

To these objections, Reb Moshe basically responds (If I understood him correctly), that the notion that stam yeinam can never be nullified because it is the intent of the whisky producer to impart the taste of stam yeinam to the whisky misses the mark. That is, Reb Moshe basically dismisses such objections. Here is why…(as I understand him):

The Gemara (Bava Basra 97a) describes a process of soaking pressed grapes in water in order to extract the remaining juice from the grape dregs in order to flavor the water. The Gemara explains, however, that the liquid is not deemed to be wine (in terms of meisser and brachos) even though the ta’am from the grapes is clearly discernible: “Do you think it is wine? It is mere acid (kiyuha).” Reb Moshe extrapolates a step further. Say someone added a drop of wine to their water to sweeten it up -- certainly you can see and taste the difference in the water, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you taste WINE. You will definitely taste something other than the water, but you what you are tasting is simply adulterated water, NOT the taste of the wine. Therefore, by whisky, while sherry cask whiskies certainly have a unique taste to them, R’ Moshe’s logic permits the sherry-cask aged whisky due to the fact that, although you taste something, it isn’t the taste of sherry, rather it is the taste of whisky that has undergone the affects of maturation in a barrel that once held sherry wine.

Further, as Alan pointed out in his post, according to Reb Moshe there is no problem of Ein M'vatlin Issur L'Chatchila (Iggeros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah, I, no. 63). A, this only applies to Jews, not non-Jews. B, According to the Taz, Yoreh De’ah 99:10 there is no issur b’hana’ah where the intended beneficiary is unaware of the fact that the substance is to be adulterated on his behalf. C, some maintain (e.g., Tosafos, Pesahim 30a) that it is entirely permissible to be m’vatl something that is entirely only an issur m’drabanan. D, Finally, Reb Moshe also cites Rambam, Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Assurot 15:26, for the opinion that all rabbinically prohibited substances may be nullified (though compare this against Rambam’s peirush on the Mishnah, Orlah 2:10; Reb Moshe responds to this issue as well). Given all of these opinions, Reb Moshe seems to be saying, there is plenty of reason to be lenient and not prohibit the use of the whisky in question.

Best I can tell, the question is really about how meikle poskim wish to be when it comes to booze. There are plenty of reasons to be machmir in general, as well as to be machmir in this particular case. By kashrus, there is perhaps a tendency for contemporary American poskim to be more machmir than their European counterparts. There is, perhaps, some fairly straightforward difference in hashkafa at play here. But I'll leave such matters to wiser, more contemplative, heads than mine.

3:59 PM, November 20, 2008

 
Anonymous Gumbuyna said...

This reminds me of the Rabbis' approach to smoking: They know that if they forbid it, the oilem won't adhere to it, so they come up with all the terutzim how to matir it!

11:37 PM, December 11, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Dayan of the London Bet Din is reputed to have said, 'If anyone has a problem with their Macallan [all Macallan is matured in sherry or other wine casks] then they can send it to me.'

1:03 PM, August 13, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

according to my research and based on a response from the GlenLivet the the GlenLivet 12 should be removed from your list. Mark



"The majority of our whiskies have some sherry influence on them. The Glenlivet 12 year old is mostly matured in bourbon casks, though some of the spirit is matured in sherry casks, and this is then married together. Our 18 year contains more sherried whisky than the 12 year old – as you will be able to see from the difference in colour (the 18 year old being much deeper). The Nadurra is purely matured in bourbon casks – none of the whisky in Nadurra has been matured inn a sherry cask.

Kind regards

Lesley"

thanks.

mdlevine

8:48 PM, October 17, 2009

 
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1:01 AM, February 19, 2010

 
Anonymous sherry wine club said...

Wow great enjoyed a lot. Thanks for this interesting post.

1:31 AM, September 13, 2010

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about balvenie 15 yr? Isn't that single cask?

9:15 AM, October 11, 2010

 
Anonymous rabbi JDS said...

as a rabbi i am constently asked about whisky mattured in sherry casks, so thanks for your artical, my question to you is, do the distillers using sherry casks wait a certain amount of time before filling them with the whisky, also do they burn out the casks befor using them.
both questions have bearing on the kashrus
so anybody out there who can help send me an answer at rabbi.schmahl@shomre-hadas.be
many thanks

5:38 AM, February 18, 2011

 
Anonymous uniqum2005 said...

Hello, an interesting reading, wanted allways to know whats kosher or not in terms for whisky.
Just a few facts from my perspective as a whisky maker:

of course you have different influences based of the different Sherry types.

Btw. Sherry is matured in american oak casks! not in european oak. Just a very little percentage is used in spain of european oak. Allt the casks for whisky matureing are "designer" casks, made especially for the whisky industry. No sherry bodega will change casks in a criadera (only if they must!)

American oak is much tighter than european oak! The loss (angle share would be to high for the klimate in Jerez)

And only Springbank is producing his own malt to 100%, all others do it in parts of 10% to max. 40%.

Just wondering that there are many different oppinions about whats kosher or not... how can a beliving jew know whats right or wrong?? I was getting confused..

Which distillery would use glycerine??? not allowed at all..

Just wondering whats the difference between a kosher sherry made by jews or in the same way produced from a spaniard?

Great article, tried to find an answer - found some but in the end i was more confused.....

Btw... today the most distilleries use even all types of casks! So you will never have a garanty to have a pure bourbon matured whisky... for marrriage (after the blending/vatting) there are used a variety of different used casks.
Even vatting vessels are not "clean" or other pipeworks, there are many condamination points during the production of whisky.

The only sure way is (as far as i can understand it now) to enjoy single casks first fill american oak bourbon barrels, or virgin european oak and virgin american oak casks.

I hope with my few different angles of view i could help some to understand the complexity and hope i will get more knowelegde about kosher whisky in the future.

Have a nice day all together who are interrested for the finer things.
Kind regards
A sherry and whisky collector and maker...

3:02 AM, April 29, 2011

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Uniqum2005 - please e-mail me at AlanLaz AT gmail DOT com.

6:38 AM, April 29, 2011

 
Blogger Michel Luc said...

I round thaïs interesting link:

http://www.rccvaad.org/documents/SherryCasks.pdf

8:41 AM, January 28, 2014

 
Anonymous MP said...

Very informative comments, esp. those of JoshuaELondon.

In a recent Sat.-night shiur, RYReisman explained why there is significant room for disagreement with the "taste coming from the oak, not the sherry wine" and "there being less than 1:6 problematic wine" points:
Re the 1st point: For a period of time (IIRC, RYR said "in the 1970's"), Spain was not exporting its sherry casks to the UK -- those who know from Scotch testified some years later that the resultant product (from specific distilleries forced during that time to use oak casks not previously used to hold sherry) did not taste as good and that, once the distilleries in question resumed using sherry casks, that the resultant product was back to tasting the way they expected it to. Bottom line: the sherry makes a positive difference (nosein ta'am lashevach), and that's a problem when the sherry is yayin AKuM!
Re the 2nd point: Halachic volume takes the area of the cask into account, so once you admit to the 1st issue (of the sherry in the cask's walls being problematic), the ratio of problematic product to Scotch is more like 1:3.75. Bottom line: no 1:6 bitul.

2:37 PM, March 06, 2014

 

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