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Dark Beer - Kashrus issues?

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  • Beerhound Jul 1, 2003 05:15 PM
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Does anyone know about any kashrus issues regarding certain beers? I know that most beer is assumed to be kosher, but I have been told by a not-necessarily well informed party that dark beers may be problematic, as brewers will add wine to enhance the color. I've also heard that some stronger beers, aka barleywine, may have kashrus issues, as well as some other imported brews.

Do I have to watch out for this stuff, assuming a fairly strict level of observance? Or is this more like the ersatz problems with Scotch that my (very frum) Rabbi says comes from "am aratzus" (i.e. ignorance) rather than from any real halachic issues.

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  1. From the Chicago Rabbinical Council Web Site:

    Domestic - all domestic (made in USA) beers, including dark beer, are acceptable unless there is a flavor additive. Check labels for any mention of flavors added.

    Many breweries are coming out with specialty brews that have additives; just because you recognize the name of the brewer, don't assume that all varieties are acceptable - check the label.

    Imported - all imported Ales, Lagers and Pilsners are acceptable.

    All Irish Stouts are acceptable.

    All German dark beers are acceptable.

    Some examples of Kosher (provided that there is no flavoring added) Canadian brands are:

    Labatt's Moloson
    Moosehead

    Link: http://www.crcweb.org/Lists/liquor%20...

    4 Replies
    1. re: bloviatrix

      I hate to knock the CRC, but they appear to be unduly stringent: By single malt scotch they say (by Balvenie) "no Sherry Casks." Pardon me, but that's just wrong. The issue of Sherry casks and scotch has been beaten to death with a stick by now, and I personally don't worry about it (with the blessings of several people who know the relevant halacha a lot better than I ever will). If you want to be machmir on yourself, fine, but the CRC policy with regard to scotch indicates that may be overly stringent by beer as well. It seems just like the am aratzus (or is it am ha'aratzus?) that I mentioned in my first post.

      An interesting issue that the CRC does bring up is checking the label: how can one rely on that alone? Is there a legal requirement that when beer is made with anything besides the traditional four ingredients, the label must reflect that?

      1. re: Beerhound

        Ingredient labeling is not required on beer in the US, except that sometimes the brewery is required to list a specific ingredient. E.g., a blueberry ale might be required to be described as 'ale with blueberries' or some such thing.

        There is a 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) list that specifies all the things that are allowed in beer.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          Where could I find the GRAS list?

          1. re: Beerhound

            I'm having a hard time finding the GRAS list on the Web, but should be able to get it from someone in the brewing community.

    2. It's interesting you say most beer is assumed to be kosher, as I know two (Redhook and He'brew) that explicitly state they are, which led me to believe the others are not.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Jim Dorsch

        That seems to be more of a marketing ploy than an appeal to the kosher consumer (I think Coors did this a while ago). My understanding is that it is rabbinically safe to assume that your garden variety beer would never contain any sort of additive that would make it unkosher.

        BTW, How is the He'brew? I got a good laugh when I saw it on the shelf in a local store, but I haven't tried it yet.

        1. re: Beerhound

          It's been a long time since I had He'Brew, but I enjoyed it. It's made by Anderson Valley, a great brewery.

          What sorts of additives make a beer nonkosher?

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            Any ingredient that is itself non-kosher *can* render a beer non-kosher. That does not mean that it necessarily *will*, as a lot depends on what it is, why isn't it kosher, how much of it is used, and in what way is it used (e.g. as a clarifying agent or as a flavoring).

            Barley, hops, and the yeast used to make a plain vanilla beer are assumed to be kosher, thus most beers do not require kashrus certification. One of my questions is when and how are other ingredients used with beer. I've heard of wine, which can be a problem for kashrus (as well as any other grape-juice product), and I seem to remember something about certain yeasts that are derived from animal products.

            Also, as you mentioned in your other post, fruit is sometimes used, making the beverage not beer but something else. Once that happens I don't think the regular assumptions about the beer's purity can be used, and you might need certification just as you would for a soda. Then again you might not, I'm just beginning to delve in to this.

            1. re: Beerhound

              I'm aware of wine being used only in a couple of really esoteric beers. There is a rumor that a Belgian beer has included it. I'm pretty sure that this is illegal in the US, as it mixes two classes of alcoholic beverage.

              More common would be spices, maybe lemon juice (Pete's Summer Brew, Sam Adams Summer Ale), orange peel, some alternative forms of sugar (honey, candy sugar).

              I'm not sure about yeasts.

              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                For the most part flavorings are okay, but some can be made from insects and are therefore not kosher. You are right in that this stuff is found rarely. 99 percent of beer and hard liquor out there is kosher.

                While most natural fungi used in producing yeast are inherently kosher, some require certification. This included natural wine yeasts for example. Commercially produced yeasts may use various ingredients that would require certification. Again, most of the time yeasts are perfectly kosher.

                You also mention honey as a possible sugar. You must be sure that it is 100 percent pure honey that is used and not honey that has flavorings added to it that could render it unkosher.

                Hope this helps a bit.

                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                  For the most part flavorings are okay, but some can be made from insects and are therefore not kosher. You are right in that this stuff is found rarely. 99 percent of beer and hard liquor out there is kosher.

                  While most natural fungi used in producing yeast are inherently kosher, some require certification. This included natural wine yeasts for example. Commercially produced yeasts may use various ingredients that would require certification. Again, most of the time yeasts are perfectly kosher.

                  You also mention honey as a possible sugar. You must be sure that it is 100 percent pure honey that is used and not honey that has flavorings added to it that could render it unkosher.

                  Hope this helps a bit.

        2. b
          Bride of the Juggler

          Beware of Yards Love Stout - made with oysters.

          1. Dark Beer is made using dark malt (there are many types). I've never seen or heard of beer made with grape products, and I've had a lot of fruit flavored beers. Generally if a beer uses a non-trivial amount of an ingredient, and especially if it's to give it some distinguishing taste or color that ingredient will be listed on the label.

            The only problem with yeast that I'm aware of is if non-kosher vintners yeast (used to make wine) is used. Yeast is a complicated halachic issue, as it is viewed as a neutral ingredient rather than as a living creature (which it is).

            In any case kashrus is difficult enough without adding beer, which has been accepted as generally kosher for thousands of years, to the list of products to watch out for.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Hillel

              I agree that we have a generally accepted assumption for beer, and believe me I'm the last person to start making up chumras - but when is beer no longer considered beer?
              Are fruit flavored beers, and beers made with herbs and spices other than hops for that matter, still considered beer l'halacha? While I agree that I don't need to bother worrying about your garden variety beer, I am increasingly finding more exotic brews (especially from Belgium) that have something different used in them. Can I drink these because we call them "beer?"

              Also, according to what you write about vintners' yeast a type of ale known as barleywine may also be problematic. I've had one that was really good (Brooklyn Brewery's Monster Ale) before becoming aware of the possible problems, and I'd love to have more - but only if it's kosher.

              1. re: beerhound

                Of course, beer was made for centuries with spices instead of hops, but that probably has nothing with the issues you discuss, of which I'm ignorant.

                Most barley wines are fermented with ale yeast. However, there are some ridiculously strong beers (Dogfish Head makes some, as does Boston Beer Co) that are made with multiple yeasts that likely include something like champagne yeast.

                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                  Do you know about the Brooklyn Brewery's Monster Ale? It's about 10-12% ABV dependiong on the year. Thanks much.

                  1. re: beerhound

                    I'm pretty sure Monster is fermented with ale yeast only. I'll see if I can confirm this. Great beer!