Brandy Is Dandy, But Needs Special Attention to Be Kosher as Well

December 19, 2007

Brandy is short for brandywine and is derived from the Dutch brandewijn, meaning burnt, or distilled, wine. The alcohol for brandy is produced by fermenting fruits to produce wine. Because fermentation is a result of the action of microbes in yeast, there is a natural limit to the alcohol content of the fermented material. When the alcohol concentration reaches a level of about 12 percent, fermentation stops. The reason is that the alcohol kills any remaining yeast so that no more alcohol is produced; the limit of alcohol content in wine, therefore, is around 12 percent. There is, however, a type of bacteria, called acetobacter, which thrives on alcohol, turning it into vinegar, thereby souring the wine. Thus, wine is ordinarily subject to two drawbacks in quality: The one is a limit to its strength, the other, a limit to its shelf life.

The solution to both of the above problems is distillation, a process in which the product is heated until the alcohol boils off. The bacteria are killed as the heating process takes place. Since alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, the vapor is a more highly concentrated alcohol. When the vapor is cooled down and recondensed, the result is brandy. Brandy, in other words, is concentrated wine.

What are the kosher concerns of these products? Yeast is added in order to stimulate fermentation, so kosher certified yeast must be obtained. Since brandy is essentially a distilled grape wine, it is subject to all the usual kosher concerns of wine, requiring specially staffed and specially controlled kosher productions. Specialty brandies, however, are also made from other fruits. In that case, sometimes a flavor is added in order to strengthen the flavor of the fruit. Of course, flavors are some of the most kosher sensitive substances and require certification in order to be permitted in a kosher product.
Some manufacturers actually use only pure fruit for their brandy, e.g., plums, apricots and pears. Thus the question of flavors is eliminated. However, in these cases, the alcohol level often needs to be adjusted to bring it into the right proportion with the flavor. This is often accomplished by adding alcohol purchased on the open market. This alcohol carries with it a possible plethora of problems, described below.

Liqueurs are generally produced by mixing alcohol, sugar or corn syrup, and flavorings. In addition to the problems mentioned earlier, there can be concerns with the alcohol itself. The alcohol may be derived from wine (some European countries have an excess of wine), which can only be kosher if produced in a controlled kosher process. In certain parts of Europe, alcohol is produced from whey, a by-product of the cheese-making process. Whey poses kosher concerns of its own. In addition, it is a dairy product. Since kosher law precludes the consumption of milk and meat together and liqueur is often used in conjunction with a meat meal, the possibility of dairy-derived alcohol is of significant concern. In the United States, the type of alcohol that would be used in the production of liqueur is known as grain neutral spirits, or GNS, and it generally does not have kosher concerns. Nevertheless, companies sometimes blend non-kosher grape wine with GNS to produce OTS (other than standard) wine, which is then used as a component for liqueurs.

In addition to the above, glycerin is often used as a sweetener and emulsifier in liqueur. Glycerin is often produced from animal fat and requires kosher certification. Finally, coloring agents may be added, and they would have to be certified kosher as well.

Diageo North America, manufacturers of the Godiva line, has a tradition of employing the highest quality standards in the industry. As a result, the company uses exclusively its own self-manufactured grain neutral spirits, as well as flavors they design themselves. These flavors are produced at their own OU supervised facilities, with the company thereby working together with the Orthodox Union to obviate the two thorniest problems in the production of kosher liqueur. Here is a wonderful example of how kashrut and quality combine to produce a world-renowned premier kosher beverage.