Jews who are tired of saying the kiddush over Manischewitz on Friday nights have increasingly been turning to another high-end alcohol: whisky. The drink is often naturally kosher, and its variety, complexity, and quality are comparable to its grape-made cousin. Distillers are now eagerly courting Jewish consumers with kosher certifications, outreach, and a major annual tasting event.
Though both wine and whisky generally have no unkosher ingredients, the production and handling of kosher wine is governed by millennia of law due to its place in religious ritual. Whisky, however, is free from such restrictions. Some observant Jews avoid types of whisky that are aged in wine barrels. But variations like bourbon are by definition aged in new casks, making the Kentucky standard one of the most popular whiskies among Jewish tipplers.
Producers appreciate how lucrative and passionate the market is, and are responding accordingly. Kosher wine maker the Royal Wine Corporation approached a distiller several years ago about producing a kosher whisky. The resulting product was aged in barrels that had held Kedem kosher port for two decades, and sold quickly.
Others, like scotches from Ardbeg, Glenmorangie, Glenrothes, and Tomintoul, have acquired kosher certification.
Even an initial obstacle to the growing subculture turned out to be a bracha-in-disguise for Jewish whisky aficionados. When American whisky’s biggest tasting event, WhiskyFest, was moved from a weeknight to the Sabbath in 2012, hundreds of observant Jews suddenly could not attend. Joshua Hatton, the creator of JewMalt Whisky Reviews and co-founder of the Jewish Whisky Company, found his inbox flooded with requests for a solution. In just a matter of weeks, he had hundreds of vendors lined up for a weeknight version of WhiskyFest, which he dubbed Whisky Jewbilee.
The Jewbilee celebrated its second year earlier this month, bringing together 350 patrons at the West Side Jewish Center in Manhattan for whisky and a kosher catered meal.
Not bad for an alternative to Heavy Malaga.