In 2010 Joshua Hatton attended New York’s Whiskyfest and noticed that in a crowd of about 3,500 people, over a third of them were Jewish. In that moment, he came up with the idea of catering to Jewish whiskey enthusiasts.
“There’s more kippot than there are kilts at these events,” Hatton said. “It seemed like the smart thing to do.”
The result of that brainstorm: the Jewish Whisky Company, an independent bottling company that adheres to the laws of kashrut, and Single Cask Nation, its members-only club. The company is just about to deliver its second release of high-quality single cask whiskies to its members.
Now in its fifteenth month of business, Single Cask Nation has about 200 members, 40 percent of whom are Jewish.
“There’s a watermark of the star of David on the front [of our bottles]. We really try to press the Jewish pride aspect,” Hatton said. “We also have 60 percent of our membership who are not Jewish. We don’t want to exclude them by being overly Jewish. We’re about whisky first and foremost, and we want to make sure kosher issues are met.”
All whisky is made using kosher ingredients, but a kashrut issue can arise when whisky is matured in a cask that once contained alcohol made from grapes.
In the Talmud, the rabbis debated if a beverage containing non-kosher components such as residual grape juice could be kosher, but no consensus was reached. The Scottish Rabbinical Board deems all whiskeys kosher by nature, so though the Jewish Whisky Company’s bottles aren’t labeled with a heksher, or kosher certification, they comply with the laws of kashrut by most Jews’ standards.
Additionally, since the barley-based beverage is considered chametz, or unkosher for Passover, during the holiday the Jewish Whisky Company sells their bottles as chametz to a non-Jewish party, and repossesses them after Passover to ensure the bottles do not become traif, or non-kosher.
The company also carries out Jewish values through charity and tikun olam, the imperative to repair the world, said Jason Johnstone-Yellin, the co-founder and vice president of Single Cask Nation and the Jewish Whisky Company.
In October, Single Cask Nation will host its second annual Whisky Jewbilee, where a portion of the ticket proceeds will be donated to Support Connection, a non-profit organization that provides support to people affected by breast and ovarian cancer.
Since eating is essential when tasting several whiskeys so as not to become intoxicated, the Jewbilee is the only whiskey festival to provide an entirely kosher buffet, Johnstone-Yellin said.
“We didn’t want to be another stuffy whisky company that takes itself incredibly seriously, we wanted it to be modern and interesting,” he said.