THE toast is not so much “slainte” as “l’chaim”. A growing number of Scotch whisky distilleries are having their single malt whisky certified as kosher to tap into the rapidly expanding Jewish whisky drinking market.
While some whisky is naturally kosher, whisky that has matured in wine or sherry casks is not. Instead, some of Scotland’s best-known distilleries are bringing in rabbis to supervise whisky bottlings, which allows them to have malts certified as officially kosher – meaning that they conform to the regulations of kashrut, or Jewish dietary law.
Distilleries now producing kosher-certified whisky include Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch, Bowmore, Glenrothes and Tomintoul. Many of the kosher bottlings are exported to the United States and to Israel, while some are sold to the Jewish community in the UK.
David Margulies, director and owner of London-based kosherwineuk.com, which sells more than 25 single malt kosher-certified whiskies, said: “It is a market which has expanded hugely recently.
“There are more Jewish people drinking whisky than ever before, and some Orthodox people have a problem with whisky that is sherry casked, although not all Jews do. Distilleries don’t want to have this problem so special batches are made supervised by rabbis.”
Hannah Fisher, senior brand manager for the Bowmore and Glen Garioch distilleries, said: “It’s a growing market, and we certainly have a Jewish community of whisky drinkers that ask for kosher products.
“We want to be able to give clear communication of what’s kosher and what’s not. We think it will continue to grow as a market, not least because there are more specialist retailers out there who can sell these tailored products.”
Glen Garioch has just produced a new kosher whisky, Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, which is matured in virgin North American white oak casks.
Although the whisky process is itself kosher, most wine and sherry is not, meaning that, for some Jews, whisky that has matured in a barrel that once contained wine or sherry no longer conforms to Jewish dietary law.
In New York, single malt whisky has become so popular in the Jewish community that it has spawned the Jewish Whisky Company, an independent bottling company that sells Scottish malts including Glen Moray, Laphroaig, Ben-Riach and Arran.
“We want to cater to the Jewish market in a way that nobody has before,” said founder Joshua Hatton, who also runs an annual whisky festival in New York City called Whisky Jewbilee.
“With a focus on kosher-keeping Jews to ensure their dietary needsare met, we always maintain two-thirds of our line to be ex-bourbon matured whisky which is kosher by nature. Furthermore, as a Jewish-owned company, we follow the laws of Pesach [Passover], ‘selling’ our grain-based goods for an eight-day period in the spring before purchasing them back afterwards.”
He added: “There are a lot of ins and outs when it comes to Halachah [Jewish law] and we’re making sure to follow them so that our kosher- keeping brothers and sisters know we have their backs.”
In Israel, whisky has become so popular that its first single malt whisky distillery is currently under construction. The Milk and Honey Distillery, which promises to produce a kosher “Speyside/Highland inspired single malt”, will use waters from the Holy Land and is being created under the eye of Scottish master distiller Dr Jim Swan.
Duncan Baldwin, brand development director at Tomintoul distillery, which produces a number of kosher-certified whiskies including the 14-year-old Tomintoul Kosher Portwood, said that it was a way of expanding the whisky’s audience.
“Some of the Tomintoul range has been classified as kosher and ratified, and we just think that by doing that we allow ourselves the opportunity to serve a wider audience than would have been otherwise,” he said. “America is an important market and they serve a big Jewish community. Having kosher-certified bottlings allows those who strictly follow the Jewish faith the opportunity to try our whiskies.”
Margulies said he thought it would continue to be a lucrative avenue for whisky distillers. “I anticipate the market will continue to boom, and more distilleries will start producing kosher-certified whisky. It opens up an extra market for whisky distilleries, and the Jewish market are big spenders and they have some cash, so why not?”
However Hatton said that some Jews believe that kosher certification is not necessary.
“As the Jewish Whisky Company, we remain respectful to those that have concerns regarding ex-sherry/other ex-wine casks. However, we align ourselves with many Scottish rabbis that deem all whisky to be kosher by nature regardless of cask type used in the maturation process,” he said. “Because of this, we will not steer clear of bottling ex-sherry/other ex-wine cask matured whiskies.”
A Scotch Whisky Association spokeswoman said: “We welcome interest from Jewish consumers and many Scotch whisky brands are listed as meeting kashrut dietary rules. Individual companies will consider whether or not to pursue kosher certification.”