The Forward newspaper commented “there were more kippas than kilts” at Whiskey
Fest 2010. It is a constant surprise how many whiskey mavens there are within
the Jewish community.
What is the Jewish fascination with whiskey? Maybe,
like Chinese food, with which American Jews are said to have a love affair,
whiskey has become another sort of “safe treyf.” Both Chinese food and whiskey
were considered exotic, sophisticated and almost un-Jewish! Lenny Bruce
considered it another way; whiskey was Jewish and beer was goyish! I suppose the
connection started because Jews were more comfortable drinking whiskey compared
to cognacs or brandies, which had to be certified as kosher. The best whiskeys
could therefore be enjoyed without worrying about kashrut. What began as an
aspirational status symbol, became the playing field for a raft of new
Historically in Eastern Europe, Jews were always associated
with liquor. By the late 18th century, it was said that 15% of Jews living in
towns and no less than 85% of Jews in the country were engaged in the
manufacture, distribution or sale of alcohol! It was one of the few industries
they were permitted to take part in and Jews were abstemious enough to be
unaffected by the lures of their product.
In the new country, the
relationship with alcoholic drinks continued. During Prohibition in the US many
Jewish families found their foothold in the new country by bootlegging whiskey.
They came from an immigrant community and were hungry for success and
acceptance. Bootlegging was high risk. Daring and ingenuity was required, but it
was highly profitable. From such beginnings, countless Jews entered the drinks
industry as distributors.
The Bronfman family of Canada created Seagram,
which became the largest drinks company in the world.
Chivas Regal was
their greatest creation. Gradually whiskey became the aspirational American
upgrade from schnapps and vodka. Whiskey became ever present on the kiddush
table for Shabbat. Now we have kiddush clubs. These started as informal groups
that would quietly filter out of the synagogue after the Haftara reading, to
enjoy an early kiddush over some prestigious whiskeys.
Some rabbis have
banned them deeming them inappropriate, while others have quietly ignored them,
seeing it as a Shabbat attraction. The interest in whiskey that started in
America has spread to Jewish communities worldwide.
The thorny question
of whether to bring a blended whiskey or a single malt to a simha depends how
greatly you esteem your guests. Basically, a single malt is one produced by one
distillery, whilst a blended whiskey is from more than one distillery. An aged
or de luxe blend is one with a higher proportion of aged malt whiskey in
To simplify matters, Glennfiddich, Glenmorangie, Macallan and
Glenlivet are single malts. Ballantines, J&B, Grants and Johnnie Walker Red
Label are blends. Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker Black Label are de-luxe
For those that find Scotch whisky too smoky and peaty, try Irish
whiskey. (Irish is with an E, Scotch without it!). Irish whiskey is rounder and
smoother. Jameson and Bushmills are the two main brands.
numerous whiskies on the market. Some of them are collector’s items. A recent example is the beautifully packaged Glennfiddich
Snow Phoenix. A total of 45 bottles only of this limited edition have come to
This is a special expression to commemorate the particular tough
winter of 2010 in Speyside. The unusually heavy snowfall damaged the cask cellar
where the whisky was maturing. The regular Glennfiddich is the world’s
largest-selling malt whisky. It is the one in the triangular bottle.
malt whisky should be drunk on its own or with just a splash of mineral
If it is in a rich after dinner style, like Macallan or Glenlivet,
I would even drink it in a brandy balloon glass. Failing that, a copita or
thistle shaped glass is fine.
Blended whiskeys are best drunk in a
whiskey tumbler with ice, water or a mixer. The Americans will add ice to
everything, the English will add ginger ale and the Scots will even add
Each to his own! Scotch is made from water, yeast and barley,
so there are no kashrut issues with the malting, mashing or distillation
process. It is maturation which is a potential problem because the whiskey may
be aged in used sherry or wine casks. If you disregard this because of bitul
b’shishim, which nullifies the unkosher aspect, then Orthodox Jews may enjoy
whiskeys like everyone else. My favorite malt whiskeys are Balvenie and Macallan
from Speyside, Bruichladdich from Islay, Springbank from Campbeltown and
Highland Park from the Orkneys.
The whiskeys either with kosher
certification or finished in kosher wine casks are listed below.Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes on wine for both
international and Israeli publications.
The whiskies either with kosher certification or finished in kosher wine casks
are as follows: Ardbeg
, 10 years old Ardbeg is one of the greatest malt whiskies
from the south coast of Islay. This is a powerful brew. A smoky, peaty,
salty nose, with a whiff of iodine and seaweed. An outstanding dram.
1994, 12 years old A Carmel wine finish whisky. It
is a delicately balanced, without the exaggerated peatiness normally associated
with Islay. Not certified kosher, but aged in casks used for kosher
1989, 18 years old Limited release with a taste of
Israel, being aged in Carmel’s wine casks. Elegant and sophisticated. A must for
the whisky collector. It is a magnificent whisky. Bruichladdich and Carmel
Winery were founded in 1881 and 1882 respectively.Glenmorangie
10 years old This is one of the classic drams, from the Northern Highlands.
Perfectly balanced, medium bodied. Floral and citrus notes backed by a sweet
Speyside whisky, light in style, with a
pleasant sweetness. This is an excellent brand for beginners. The full range is
kosher, apart from the one aged in Oloroso Sherry casks.