Whiskey — wherever it is made, and in whatever style — is a great beverage for the winter. Just a few sips can warm the gullet, and take a bit of the chill off the coldest of winter nights.
All whiskeys were once almost universally considered kosher. But in the last few decades the kashrut of whiskey has come up for debate.
Until recently only Scotch whisky, with its sherry-cask aging, had been of concern to most kashrut authorities. In 2008, however, the London Beth Din, one of the world’s leading kosher certifiers of distilled spirits, questioned the kashrut of most Irish whiskies, and in 2010, the Association of Kashrus Organizations, an umbrella organization for American kashrut agencies, raised doubts about whiskey products from the one of America’s largest distillers, the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
As a result of these growing concerns many whiskey producers are now seeking kosher certification, and among the growing list of kosher-certified producers are two of America’s newest — and smallest — distilleries.
The Koval Distillery, in Chicago, opened in 2008 and is run by husband-and-wife team Robert and Sonat Birnecker. Koval (Yiddish for blacksmith) currently produces 15 different single-grain whiskies — all of which are aged for less than two years (if aged at all) and all of which are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. According to Sonat, the distillery chose to seek kosher certification because “we are very proud to be Jewish, and wanted to make sure our products are available to all the members of our community.”
Catoctin Creek Distilling, located Purcellville, Va., is run by Scott and Becky Harris, who opened their distillery in late 2009 and started production last year. Beginning with their initial run, the majority of the distillery’s products — which include both an un-aged rye whiskey and a briefly aged rye whiskey, have been made under the supervision of Star-K Kosher Certification.
So For this month’s Fruit of the Vine, we tasted a number of kosher-certified whiskies from both Koval and Catoctin Creek, and were pleasantly surprised at how uniformly good these young whiskies tasted.
One of the most interesting of them was Koval’s Lion’s Pride Dark Millet Whiskey. Made from 100 percent organically grown millet, this medium bodied, tawny colored whiskey was aged in heavily charred white oak barrels. Look for a nose of toasty oak and almonds, with a whiff of hay, and a lightly sweet flavor of caramel and roasted nuts. While enjoyable on its own, this whiskey should be a good choice for use in cocktails with a bit of citrus, such as the Whiskey Rickey, or the Lion’s Tail.
Also quite good was Catoctin Creek’s, Roundstone Rye. This smooth, tawny colored, rye was aged for a few months in new white oak barrels. Look for flavors and aromas of vanilla, oak, caramel, lemon, and allspice. Although it’s a pleasant sipping whiskey, Roundstone rye would be a good choice for use in bitters-driven cocktails, such as the Old Fashioned.
American whiskies tend to be very versatile, and can be enjoyed by themselves, with food, or in cocktails and punches. So the next time you’re feeling the bite of wintertime cold, warm up with a dram of whiskey from one of America’s micro-distilleries. You won’t regret it.