What Is Kosher Alcohol?
Kosher alcohol is alcohol that has been created without grain and has been certified as complying with Jewish dietary laws. Wine has an extra requirement that requires the preparation to be overseen by a Sabbath-observant Jew. Kosher foods, including alcohol, can be identified as such by looking for the hechsher mark. This is a symbol that is placed on kosher products to signify that they are indeed kosher.
Beer typically is considered kosher alcohol because of the method by which it's made and the ingredients in it. Flavored beers might contain items that aren't kosher, and unless the beer is labeled with the hechsher mark, it usually is not considered kosher. Some forms of beer are made with barley and yeast, making them ineligible for the hechsher mark.
Some types of hard liquor products are kosher. Most hard liquors are made with grain. The grains aren't actually found in the product, though, so they might get the kosher seal. There are kosher forms of vodka, scotch, tequila and whiskey. To be kosher approved, the process of making the liquor, the ingredients used and the equipment used must all be considered.
Brandy and cognac are made from wine, so they can be labeled as kosher. Without this mark, they should be avoided by those who want kosher alcohol. Gin without added flavors is acceptable. Some types of rum are acceptable as long as they have a kosher seal. White tequila, also called silver tequila, is acceptable, but brown, gold and special blends are not recommended because of the coloring and additives used in most.
Wine has very specific guidelines to be labeled as kosher alcohol. It has a long history in religious practice. According to Jewish dietary laws, wine is kosher only if it is handled by an Orthodox Jew through the entire process. This includes every step, from the harvest to the fermentation to the bottling process.
Most of the ingredients used in traditional wine-making are considered kosher. Some wines use additional agents as finings. Finings are used in wine to keep it from becoming cloudy during the stabilization process. If a wine is made with fining agents such as the dairy derivative casein, gelatin or isinglass, it is not considered kosher. Kosher wine might include egg whites for this process.
It seems that most types of alcohol except wine and those based on wine, are kosher. For some reason, wine has additional requirements to be considered kosher. I guess its because wine plays an important role in many Jewish practices and festivities.
I don't mind purchasing beer or hard liquor without the kosher symbol if there are no fancy flavors and coloring. But when it comes to wine, I do look for the kosher symbol. This is a must if the wine is going to be served at Passover, or ceremonies for marriage, birth, etc.
@candyquilt-- Alcohol is allowed in Judaism. I think there are more conservative Jewish sects who do not drink alcohol. Some non-conservatives also prefer using grape juice for Jewish holidays like Shabbat instead of wine. So I suppose it is a personal decision to some degree.
But Jews who drink alcohol and who also follow Jewish dietary laws consume only Jewish alcohol. You might not have seen it but it is available at many health food stores, grocery stores and wineries where there is a large Jewish population.
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