Scots whisky Johnnie Walker prompts Israel kosher row

ONE of Scotland’s leading whiskies is at the centre of a row in Israel following claims that not all bottles on sale have kosher status.

Glasses of Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky. A row has erupted in Israel over the kosher classification of one of Scotland's most iconic whisky brands. Picture: Getty Images

The Israeli Chief Rabinnate - head of religious law and spiritual authority for Jewish people in Israel - has revoked the kosher certification of one of only two major whisky importers of Johnnie Walker Black Label, claiming it was wrongly labelled.

Shops and restaurants being told to remove such bottles from their shelves.

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However, there are still bottles of the whisky for sale imported by the whisky’s official Israeli supplier with correct kosher certification.

With demand for whisky growing in Israel, a number of Scottish whisky distilleries are producing kosher-certified whisky, ensuring the dram is not matured in wine or sherry casks. Some distilleries bring in rabbis to supervise the bottling.

The dispute involves Israel Beer Breweries Ltd Spirits (IBBLS) - the official importer of Johnnie Walker and a number of other alcoholic products - who flew inspectors to Scotland to inspect the whisky brand’s facilities and ensure they complied with regulations for kosher status, and rival company Paneco.

Paneco did not do checks but say their product is kosher because it is the same product.

However, the situation is complicated as various versions and runs of the whisky are certified as kosher by the OK Kosher Certification organization (referred to as OK), and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s Kashrut department relies on this supervision for allowing imports of the whiskey to be labelled as Kosher.

A letter sent two weeks ago by Rabbi Aharon Haskel, the head of OK’s Israel branch, to the head of the Rabbinate’s enforcement department stated that the organisation does not supervise all Johnnie Walker whisky produced. Only certain batches produced in certain facilities and imported to Israel, by IBBLS alone, are supervised.

A spokesman for Paneco said: “All products sold on are completely and solely original.

“The Johnnie Walker whisky products sold on the site are created by the primary manufacturer at the Diageo distillery in Scotland, and is the exact same product being marketed by a competing company in Israel, which holds the kosher certification for the product.”

Last night a spokesman for Diageo said: “While we are happy to share information about our brands, we respect that consumers themselves must choose whether to enjoy scotch whisky according to their own circumstances.

“We don’t comment on issues relating to third party distributors, but it must be stressed that there is no question about the quality and provenance of any of our scotch whisky brands.”