Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Whisky and Wine

Q: Kvod HaRav,

Is single malt scotch whisky finished in wine casks kosher? Glenmoranige lists one of their single malts with this description: "Finished in Sherry butts after an initial maturation in ex-bourbon casks." No wine is added to the whisky, it only sits in casks that used to hold non-kosher wine.
If I am not mistaken yayin nesech is batel b'shesh. Obviously any wine left in the cask walls would be less than one in six. Do we hold by this and say the whisky is kosher or does ta'am k'ikar trump here and make the whisky non-kosher?

Kol tuv,
Aric K.

A: Dear Aric,

Your basic assumption is correct. The only caveat is that we must calculate based upon the dimensions of the cask itself and not our estimation of how much wine its walls absorbed. We treat the entirety of the cask as if it is non-kosher wine. Now, if we know for sure that the total volume of the casks is less than one sixth of the volume of the whisky that is finished in them, then that whisky is kosher.

By definition, the fact that we use the measurement "one sixth" rather than "one sixtieth" means that we are not concerned with taam k'iqar here. In other words, the possible or actual presence of wine flavor in the whisky would be irrelevant in this case.

Best Regards,

Rabbi Maroof

UPDATE: A good friend informed me via email that I overlooked an important halacha in the Shulhan Aruch that addresses this case. In reality, even if the volume of the casks is greater than one-sixth of the whisky inside, the whisky remains permissible. This is because of a special leniency regarding non-kosher wine - the halacha is that the absorbed wine taste is automatically nullified by any non-wine beverage that is placed in the non-kosher wine vessels. The one-sixth ratio is only necessary when actual non-kosher wine becomes mixed into a kosher beverage.


Anonymous said...

Why are such instances allowed in the first place? Why wouldn't we say that "after the fact" the scotch is kosher, but under most circumstances we should ideally avoid such questions to begin with. So if a scotch was made in a non-kosher wine vat, shouldn't we be obligated to select another scotch that was not made in such a manner?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Excellent question...The answer is that, in general, this is not the way halacha operates with regard to cases of "after the fact" and "before the fact".

If the scotch has already been prepared by a non-Jewish person, company, factory, etc., and the wine was nullified before we ever encountered it, this is not considered "relying" on nullification. The purification of the scotch was accomplished by someone else before we arrived on the scene, so it is permitted without any hesitation. It is just as kosher as anything else available.

The same would be true with any other case of nullification of non-kosher substance, such as a company that adds less than 1/60 of a prohibited ingredient to their product. Once it is already on the shelf, we are permitted to purchase it without compunction. On the other hand, to ask the non-Jew to prepare it for us would be relying on nullification "in advance", which is prohibited.

Anonymous said...

Why do we not say that it is 'nosei taam lesvach' (for if it wasn't then they would not do it!) and therefore it is not botul?

Jacob said...


I believe the answer to your last question was already answered in Rabbi Maroof's original post, namely that since the key ratio here is one-sixth and not one-sixtieth, then the taste of the non-kosher wine is of no regard. (Similarly, in a normal case where the wine is nullified because it's less than 1/6th of the mixture, but one can still taste the wine, it is still permissible even if the wine is 'noten ta'am li'shvah').

Anonymous said...

I think they put it into the wine casks for colour and not for taste. Also Rav Moshe has an entire tshuva based on this.

Anonymous said...

where is this located in the Shulchan Aruch? thanks

Anonymous said...

I find this discussion very interesting since I'm the manager of a bar with more than 700 whiskies. What strikes me here is that there is no mention of the different types of whisky: Single malt, Grain and Blended and Blended Malt. Although I only have limited understanding of the Jewish rules and regulations regarding food or drink being Kosher I would like to add to this discussion that the cask is a very important element in the maturation of whisky. It gives the whisky 60% or more of its colour and taste. It is indeed true that the spirit draws the wine from the wood and of course the level of influence of the wood and therefor the wine depends on how many times the cask was used previously to mature whisky. Can you please explain to me in goy-terms(excuse the expression) what the specific rule is that applies here. Kind regards, Daniel, Scotland

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