The London Beis Din Bombshell regarding Whisky



For quite a few years now, the OU, Star-K and CrC have had the policy that if the label mentions that the whisky has been matured in sherry or wine casks then they give it the status of “Not Approved”.


After almost a century of taking the halachic position that all Scotch whisky, whether blended or single malt was kosher, in a landmark decision which will come as a bombshell to many, the London Beit Din has finally recognised that dramatic changes in the whisky industry over the past 30 years regarding the use of fresh or re-seasoned sherry casks, has forced them to reassess the situation.
Sherry Bombs

Consequently, they issued a new kashrut directive back in January 2017 which was subsequently updated in June 2017. Here are the relevant points.
Learn About Kosher: Are all Whiskies Kosher?
Date Uploaded:  Tuesday 27th June 2017
Ordinary Scotch Whisky whether Single Malt or Blended without any mention of the use of sherry, port or other wine casks on the label or marketing literature, can be consumed confidently without any Halachic concerns relating to potential contact with ex-wine casks. No additives to Scotch Whisky are permitted, with the exception of Caramel Colour which is kosher.”

“Whiskey which has been matured in wine casks has been subject to detailed Halachic consideration by major poskim (including Minchas Yitzchok Vol 2, 28 and Igros Moshe Yore Deah Vol 1, 62 and 63) who did not forbid its consumption. There is a new process however, known as Wine Cask Finishes (also referred to as double or second maturation) which is a secondary process in which fully aged and mature whisky is returned to specially commissioned and primed wine casks for a further period of maturation, a process some claim imparts a recognisable taste of the wine. This new process may not be covered by all the aforementioned heterim and accordingly some may wish to avoid products so labelled.”



Sherry Bombs

I’m not quite sure who they mean by “some”?  Do they mean those who are unsure whether the heterim of these Teshuvos written in the 1950s, cover today’s Sherry bombs like Dalmores, Macallans and Abelour A’bunadh, where new-make-spirit is poured into soaking wet casks, dripping with sweet fresh sherry? I think everyone should be concerned, not just “some”!
Maybe readers would like to send me a comment telling me what they understand by this?
What I find utterly astonishing is that when I was in Britain recently, I spoke to community Rabbonim who are whisky drinkers as well as others who consider themselves Orthodox Jews, and no one, but no one had ever heard of these new LBD directives regarding their favourite drink.
I would think that if the London Beit Din issued new directivities regarding Marmite, Cadburys Chocolate, Colman’s Mustard, Shandy Bass or Irn Bru or any other “essential” British cultural food or drink, they would be on it in a flash, talking about it and publicising it in the weekly Shul sheets. However, when it comes to Scotch whisky, for some reason, all you hear are the sound of crickets (I mean the insects, not the sound of leather on willow!)
When I informed them of the LBD’s change of policy and simply asked them not even to take my word for it but to go to the LBD site and look it up themselves, I was met by either dumb silence as they stared through me as if I wasn’t there (presumably in state of total of denial), or sometimes met with open hostility.

I am met by similar reactions of either total denial or outright hostility from American and British whisky drinkers here in Israel. However, I have found that Israelis are far more willing to listen and check the current halachic view on this subject.
I would also appreciate comments as to why this might be.

Comments

  1. Has there actually been evidence that soaking wet sherry casks dropping with wine are used? LBD uses much more moderate language and talks about secondary maturation , while you use the hyperbolic sherry bombs.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment Maria. Yes, plenty of evidence. In emails from Cask experts, distillery managers and Sherry experts, the sherry casks arrive in Scotland, fresh and soaking wet, dripping with sherry with around 10 litres of sherry at the bottom o f the cask. This is standard practice for producing sherry bombs. Other distillery owners have their own cooperages in Scotland, such as Edrington Group, who take American Oak casks and soak them in sherry in themselves. Then they are directly filled with new make spirit.

      I travel to Scotland every year and interview experts there as well as plenty of emails to back this up. The kashrus organisations can do exactly what I did. Actually, the Star-K, CrC and OU know about this already.

      There are various estimates as to how many litres are inside the pours of the wood. This is all legal according to SWA regulations.

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