The BIG Business of Kosher Tequila, Part III

[An urgent text message about Kosher tequila from an agave beverage manager at a thriving new bar in New York City, and the resulting questions raised from research into this misunderstood market from all points–tequila and mezcal brand owners, consumers, and rabbinical representatives of the Jewish faith–prompted me to finally discuss the positive, often flawed, and vastly under served kosher tequila and mezcal segments of the market.]

Still confused about the Kosher dietary laws and how it could affect your favorite agave spirits?  Then, check out Part 1.

Interested to learn more about how these agave spirits brands came to be certified kosher?  See Part 2.

If you’re a…

Tequila and Mezcal Consumer–

Arm yourself.

Both KMD and KA-Kosher supply lists of kosher certified alcoholic beverages.  As we mentioned in Part 1, so does the Chicago Rabbinical Council.  In each instance, be aware that when it comes to tequilas and mezcals…

All Lists Are Flawed!

kosher tequilaUnlike the CRT’s NOM Lists that are updated roughly each month, these kosher lists seemed not to have been touched in years.  And of the brands that were listed, more often than not, were now, sadly, extinct.

Upon closer examination of the KA-Kosher list, many of the certified tequilas are brands distributed in Mexico only.  The American kosher consumer is left out in cold (unless you’re on vacation in Mexico during the holidays!).

In another instance, tequila Embajador is listed as kosher.  When contacted, neither the importer nor the owners of the distillery was aware that the brand was certified.  When they contacted KA-Kosher about the discrepancy, a rabbinical coordinator admitted that Embajador’s certification had lapsed, likely years ago, but whose name still appeared on the list.

In KMD’s case, a quick search reveals that many of the popular global brands listed are suspect and known to process tequilas with diffusers.

In light of new industrial processes like diffusers and their use of sulfuric acid in catalyzed hydrolysis of agave, how can these tequilas be kosher–or even organic–for that matter?

We recently reached out to the cRc and confirmed in a phone conversation with a Rabbinical Coordinator that (at press time) it is taking steps to update its list of kosher tequilas, and, hopefully, adding mezcals.

In the meantime…

How Do I Tell If The Tequila Or Mezcal I Purchase

Is Kosher?

Glad you asked.  First, let’s dispel a few “kosher myths.”

Aren’t All Blanco Tequilas Kosher?

At one time, that was the general point of view by kashut authorities, until the use of glycerin became widely known as an approved additive in the tequila normas.

Here is an article on the OU’s (Union of Orthodox Rabbis) stance on “blenders” such as glycerin in the case of alcoholic beverages.

A Word About Barrels

Another rumor going around is that aged tequilas aren’t considered kosher.

Dulce_VidaNot so when you consider that one of the most popular kosher brewers on the planet, Shmaltz Brewing Company, ages all their lines, including their recent 2015 holiday offering,  Chanukah in Kentucky, in used Jim Beam and Heaven Hill barrels.

Dulce Vida’s 5 year Extra Añejo is also kosher, aged in used red wine barrels from Napa Valley.  (And, yes, there are kosher wineries in Napa.  Google it!)

Richard Sorenson, founder of Dulce Vida writes, “The barrels are Rombauer Merlot and Cabernet barrels.  They are gorgeous barrels and all have the Rombauer logo emblazoned in the wood.”

Without going into too much detail, in a phone conversation with the Rabbinical Coordinator for the cRc, he informed that if a particular barrel was first used to house kosher wine, then generally speaking, that barrel could be used in aging spirits.  He also mentioned that there was a way to kosher-ize (referred to as koshered) barrels for aging wines and spirits.

Research shows that some cooking utensils can be boiled or blowtorched to be spiritually cleansed.

In a follow up email with this cRc Rabbinical Coordinator, he wrote:  “Kosherizing a barrel which was used to store wine is a complicated and detailed process.  One method involves thoroughly cleaning the barrel, followed by a series of fresh water rinsings.”

The rabbi cautions, however, that, “Due to the complex nature of this process, it should only be undertaken by a recognized and reputable kosher agency.”

It goes without saying that each instance should be judged by that kosher agency on a case-by-case, or barrel-by-barrel, basis to ensure proper koshered rules were followed.

To learn more about the beliefs behind kosher wines, click here.

Isn’t Pareve Enough?

pareve-370x260-300x212This one’s tricky.

A food or drink item labeled pareve means that it can be used together with either a dairy product or a meat product and will not lead to the mixing of meat and dairy as per Jewish dietary instructions.  If you’ve perused the aforementioned lists above, you’ll see that term used after each brand.

Keep in mind that all agave spirits are fermented products.  Depending on the distillery’s fermentation process, they could be using enzymes and yeast accelerators that could come from animal sources that are prohibited by the Jewish dietary laws, and hense, not pareve.

To investigate pareve further, click here.

So, circling back to your original question–

Kosher Tequila, Or Not Kosher Tequila? 

Given the unreliability of the existing kosher lists in circulation, and the lack of transparency on behalf of multinational corporations that mass produce tequila and mezcal, proceed like any other tequila aficionado and–

Check The Label!

Similar to NOM numbers, and organically certified products, search for the seal of a trusted and well-known kosher certifying agency.  Familiarize yourself with their seals and logos shown in Part 1.

Any reputable agave spirit brand that claims to be kosher will proudly display the kosher seal they qualified for–and paid for the privilege of using–somewhere on the bottle or label.

Bottom line…

Santera_K

If it’s not there, it ain’t kosher.

***

In Part 4, discover why certain tequila and mezcal brands decided to “go Kosher.”