The Beer Essentials

While consumers are always looking for the latest trend, today’s food staples are likely the staples of yesterday. One notable example is the forever popular beverage – beer.

Just the other day I read about a recently discovered beer recipe. It was carved into a tablet roughly 5,000 years ago.  Ancient Romans called their brew, cerevisia from the Celtic word for the drink.  Surely this is the basis for the cerveza (Spanish for beer) enjoyed in Latin American cultures as well.

An admitted fan of a nice glass of suds, I took my son to “the home of beer,” Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While touring an old beer brewery, we learned about the history of the age-old ale. Although modern beer brewing has gotten more sophisticated, the product remains quite similar to how it appeared in the vast variety of drinking vessels of yesteryear.

Beer can be made by fermenting any of various starch sources, most typically from cereal grains such as rice or malted barley, which are mixed with hot water for a few hours, then drained and washed to procure as much fermentable liquid as possible. The collected fluid is boiled in copper kettles, evaporating off the water, leaving the sugars behind. This process kills the naturally- occurring enzymes that could adversely affect the fermentation.  Next, hops is added to infuse a bitter flavor into the beer. Many breweries put significant effort into procuring the world’s finest and rarest hops to create signature flavors. The product is then cooled and brewer’s yeast is added. Once fully fermented, the beer can be canned, bottled or placed in kegs.

Although there are few things which will create kosher issues, in our experience handling the kosher certification of beer, we have come across a few concerns which require careful monitoring.

Kosher concerns in beer production:

  1. Flavoring: In order to distinguish one beer from another, sometimes manufacturers find that hops sources and cooking time are not sufficient to get one’s product to stand out. Frequently, for marketing purposes, companies will add something extra to their beer products, such as caffeine or hemp!  While fresh fruits or pure extracts of lemon or orange don’t usually contain kosher issues, more involved flavors would require kosher supervision – to confirm the flavor itself is made from kosher elements.

Time magazine featured an article in a March 2016, which noted that: “[in 2015] 27% [of] new beers that came onto the market were flavored varieties.”  The article went on to state that most beer drinkers who increased their beer consumption credited the increase to a wider availability of flavors.  Apparently, the future of beer is flavored beer, and flavored beer needs to be OU Kosher certified.

  1. Equipment concerns: Often beer breweries make other products on the same equipment as kosher beer production. These products can include items made with grape must, such as the famous (not-kosher certified) Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch, an unusual grain and grape hybrid, made from an ancient recipe that scientists were able to recreate from alcohol residue found in King Midas’s tomb.  Equipment can be shared with products mixed with clam juice, such as Micheladas, a Mexican cerveza preparada made with beer, lime juice, and assorted sauces, spices, and peppers. or Cubana sometimes containing Worcestershire sauce.  Beef broth can also be added to beer.  An OU kosher beer operation needs to be dedicated to kosher productions, or schedule the production of non-kosher beer in a way as to allow kosherization of the equipment prior to restarting a standard beer production.
  2. Clarifiers: In order to remove particulates from beer production, a clarifier is often used. One major source of clarifier is gelatin, which can come from beef or pork sources.  Another is isinglass, a type of collagen taken from the swim bladder of cod,  sturgeon, or catfish (the latter are non-kosher fish).  While use of non-kosher ingredients is usually forbidden in kosher production, sometimes use of a clarifier can be permitted if: it is removed shortly after its addition; is used in small enough volume relative to the product it is added to; and another kosher equivalent is not available.  OU kosher would need to confirm these factors prior to certifying a beer.

Whether drinking an age-old brew befitting a monarch, or a custom microbrew more apropos for a hipster, one thing remains the same, OU certification is your guarantee that all the kosher requirements of this staple beverage are being met!

Rabbi Chaim Goldberg will soon celebrate fifteen years of work at OU kosher, specializing primarily in fish and potato product manufacturing.  His wife and children guard his spuds and tackle box at his Brooklyn, NY, home. 

Rabbi Chaim Goldberg
Rabbi Chaim Goldberg began working at OU Kosher in 2002.  His talents cast a wide net across many areas of kosher certification, with a specialty in the ocean’s kosher bounty.  In addition to supervising many OU-certified fish manufacturing accounts, Rabbi Goldberg has completed hundreds of inspections at manufacturing plants on five continents.  He stores his passport in Brooklyn, NY.