Q & A: Whiskey Kashrus Issue

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Whisky Alert
Questions and Answers

May 17, 2010

On May 6th AKO released an alert regarding whisky which has led to a considerable number of questions from consumers.  This document will address the most common of those questions.

1.      The alert was on AKO stationery and quoted the “AKO Executive Committee”.  Pardon my ignorance, but who are these people?

AKO has been the umbrella group for national and community hashgachos in North America and beyond for the past 25 years.  It currently has approximately 80 members and the Executive Committee is comprised of the administrators of the larger of those hashgachos including (alphabetically) cRc (Chicago), CRC/Hisachdus (Brooklyn), COR, Heart-K, Kof-K, MK, OK, OU, and Star-K.

2.      I checked your list and think that it is missing some brands owned by the same companies, or you list brands that I think are owned by others.  Are you sure your information is accurate?

We spent much time doing our due diligence in investigating the multiple layers of the companies involved, but of course it is always possible that we missed a few.  If you have a specific example, please bring it to our attention and we’ll do our best to check into it. 

Please note that our list does not include items which are merely distributed by the companies in question nor does it include any items (e.g. brandy, liqueurs) which we have always recommended as requiring a hashgachah.

3.      The alert lists many brands.  Is everything produced by these companies not recommended?

Not at all.  As noted in the alert, some products are produced from 100% non-chametz or are not aged, and do not pose a concern of chametz she’avar alav haPesach

It is worth noting that although Bourbon must legally contain at least 50% corn-based alcohol, it commonly contains chametz as (a) a secondary grain-source which may be 20-40% of the product, (b) malted barley used to breakdown the starches into fermentable sugar, and/or (c) backset from chametz fermentations.  The simple understanding is that the presence of any of these forms of chametz would be enough to render the Bourbon chametz she’avar alav haPesach (see Mishnah Berurah 442:27 & 447:105), but people with specific questions are encouraged to consult with their local Rabbi for direction.

4.      The alert states a number of facts such as that a Jew owns these companies and never performed mechiras chometz, however the language implies there was a safek (halachic doubt)?

The somewhat ambiguous language came from the legal department but the AKO Executive Committee and at least 8 Poskim associated with national hashgachos had numerous discussions before releasing this alert, and were convinced that there is no safek.

5.      Are there not numerous halachic reasons to permit whisky owned by a Jewish company over Pesach?

The aforementioned group of Administrators and Poskim considered many possible reasons to be lenient including the owner’s possible mumar status, that whisky is produced via distillation (zei’ah), and a possible corporate structure of ownership.  This group unanimously decided to publicize the alert, as none of the aforementioned reasons justified allowing a Jew to purchase these alcoholic beverages.

6.      What if I already own a bottle of one of the listed liquors?  Do I have to throw it out like other chametz she’avar alav haPesach?

Although all of the aforementioned Poskim recommended that a Jew not purchase these beverages in the future, some of them were willing to consider reasons to be lenient in specific situations for people who own considerable amounts of the affected whisky and/or would like to return unopened bottles to the store where they bought it.  People with these types of questions are encouraged to consult with their local Rabbi who will direct them.  [AKO is considering preparing some halachic literature for Rabbis to assist them in dealing with the complexities of the aforementioned shailos.]

However, it may be helpful for consumers to know that we believe that these companies were not always Jewish owned.  Accordingly:

  • Any products listed on the original alert which were purchased by a consumer before Pesach 1992/5752 (and then sold via a personal mechiras chametz for the subsequent Pesach holidays), are recommended.
  • Any products listed on the following list which were purchased by a consumer before Pesach 2009/5769 (and then sold via a personal mechiras chametz for the subsequent Pesach holidays), are recommended:

 

1792 Ridgemont

99 Schnapps

Barton

Canadian Host

Canadian LTD

Canadian Supreme

Colonel Lee

Fleischmann’s

Highland Mist

House of Stuart

Imperial

Inver House

Kentucky Gentleman

Kentucky Tavern

Lauder’s

Mr. Boston

Northern Light

Old Thompson

Ten High

Tom Moore

Very Old Barton

For updated information or questions regarding this notification, please email AKO at [email protected].

(YWN Desk – NYC)