Over the past few decades single-malt Scotch whisky has become one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish circles, a fact not lost on whisky producers. According to David Blackmore, the global brand manager for the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries, “It’s no great secret that the Jewish community in America really loves their single malts.”
Malt whisky is made from barley that is soaked, allowed to germinate, and then dried over a peat-fueled fire. This malted barley is boiled with water and brewed into a beer-like liquid which is then distilled, usually twice, in copper pot stills, and aged for at least three years in oak barrels. The term “single malt” indicates that a whisky is the product of a single distillery.
Part of the appeal of single-malt whisky, to the kosher consumer, has been that whisky is a luxury beverage that would not appear to require kosher supervision. But a number of kashrut agencies have recently expressed concern because many single malts are aged in used barrels that previously held non-kosher wine. And a growing number of distilleries, in order to keep or expand their market share among Orthodox Jews, have started obtaining kosher certification for some of their whiskies.
According the Blackmore, one of the reasons Glenmorangie decided last year to get kosher certification is because the distillery produces a series of bottlings that are aged in a variety used wine barrels, and “this had led to a reputation for [all of our whiskies] being, shall we say, unacceptable [in terms of kashrut]. … In fact our original, 10-year-old [whisky], which is our biggest seller, has always been aged in American white oak [originally] used for American whiskey [and thus not problematic in terms of kashrut.]”
In order to receive certification from the Orthodox Union, Glenmorangie has to provide proof that all the barrels used to age the kosher certified whisky have never been used to age wine. Additionally they are also required to clean their bottling line using special procedures devised by the OU before bottling their kosher certified whisky.
For this month’s Fruit of the Vine we have tasted six of the newly kosher certified single-malt whiskies, all of which were good, and would make for good wintertime nipping.
The flavor profiles of the whiskies varied greatly. For those seeking an approachable, subtle flavored whisky, Glenmorangie’s original 10-year-old whisky would be a good choice. This smooth, dark amber-colored whisky is the best selling single malt in Scotland. Look for a pleasant nose of heather, vanilla, and wild flowers, with hints of smoke and raisins. As one sips the whisky, the first flavors one tastes are heather and vanilla, which are followed by a gentle hint of smoke on the finish. This whisky would be an excellent choice for those trying single malt Scotch for the first time.
Those seeking a more pungent, peaty, whisky may want to try Tomintoul’s Peaty Tang. This dark amber-to-gold-colored whisky has an overpowering nose of peat and smoke, with hints of iodine and roasted meats. Look for a flavor dominated by peat and smoke, but with a pleasant element of caramel-like sweetness in both the palate and the finish.
Scotch whisky is not a particularly food friendly drink, but does make for an excellent digestive. In order to fully appreciate their flavors and aromas, single malts whiskies are best served in either chimney glasses, snifters, or wide mouth tumblers. So the next time you need a little something to warm you up from the snow and ice, think about pouring yourself a dram of single-malt Scotch whisky.