The Spirit of the Holiday

Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz

Liquor & Liqueur for Pesach

When enjoyed responsibly, liquor and liqueur products can enhance the Yom Tov “spirit.” However, during Pesach, these products always require special Pesach certification.

Liquor is defined as an unsweetened distilled alcoholic beverage. Liqueur is the aforementioned distilled beverage, with added sweeteners and other flavoring agents. The common denominator between liquor and liqueur is that the major ingredient, and arguably most important component, is alcohol.

So how is alcohol manufactured?

The starter material for alcohol is carbohydrates. As you might imagine, and as many on low-carb diets keenly know, the list of sources of carbohydrates is seemingly endless.

The primary raw materials used by the alcohol industry are cane, beet and fruit (most prominently grape) sugars and grain starches, which are converted to sugar with addition of enzymes.

In some countries with an abundance of dairy products, alcohol is also derived from milk lactose (the sugar found in milk). The derivative alcohol would be considered a dairy product.

The sugars undergo a natural fermentation process with yeast that converts them into alcohol. The fermentation will normally stop when the alcohol reaches the level of about 14% (though it can sometimes go slightly higher), when the alcohol content sterilizes the alcohol-producing bacteria. Wine and beer are the result of this fermentation process.

To produce a high-proof liquor there is an additional step: the distillation of the fermented material. Distillation boils off the alcohol, separating it from the other components to achieve a higher alcohol content in the distilled liquid.

Products like vodka, or neutral spirits, are distilled to almost complete alcohol purity (96%). Whiskeys are distilled to lower alcohol levels leaving non-alcohol “impurities.” The different flavor profiles of various liquor products are primarily due to the residual non-alcohol components that did not separate from the alcohol in distillation. Other contributing factors are the aging process and flavors that may be added. Sometimes, colors are added to enhance the appearance of the finished product.

Pesach Alcohol

The first and most important criterion for Pesach alcohol is the source material of the carbohydrate. Grains like wheat, barley and rye are actual chametz and can never be Pesach-approved. Corn, rice and buckwheat are considered legumes from which kitniyot-approved liquor can be produced. Sugar, fruits (i.e. grapes, apples, plums, agave etc.) and potatoes can be converted into Pesach-approved alcohol as well.

Certain additives often used in the manufacture of alcohol may prove problematic for Pesach consumption. Enzymes are frequently added to aid in the processing of the base carbohydrate material for optimum sugar yield. Laboratory yeast may also be added to enhance and standardize the fermentation process. Each additive requires Pesach approval to insure against the use of chametz in its cultivation.

Pesach-Kashered Equipment

Alcohol and other fermented products are subject to additional halachic stringencies because of their strong taste and smell. Although the laws of kashering utensils for Pesach are fairly strict, those regarding equipment that processed alcohol are that much more so. Not only must the equipment be completely cleaned in advance of any kashering, but the smell must be completely purged as well. To accomplish this, the tanks must be boiled with caustic or strong detergent as many times as necessary until the smell is gone.

Under normal circumstances, if cold liquid chametz is stored in a tank for less than 24 hours, the tank does not become chamatzdik. Of course, the tank must be thoroughly cleaned, but there is no need to kasher it with boiling water. However, with regard to alcoholic or fermented liquids, even a few minutes of contact will necessitate a full kashering.

Pesach Liqueur

When starting with a Pesach-approved alcohol, liqueurs can be made for Pesach if the added ingredients also are approved for Pesach.

Sweeteners must be sugar-based as opposed to corn sweetener-based. Flavors and colors must be especially approved for Pesach.

For cream liqueurs, the cream base (dairy or parve) must be approved for Pesach and guaranteed against the addition of non-Pesach emulsifiers or other additives.

Kosher Liquors And Liqueurs

Due to the Pesach sensitivity of alcoholic products, special Pesach supervision is always required. In today’s global market, with so many multi-national liquor companies, many liquors are bulk shipped internationally for bottling in multi-use facilities. Often equipment must undergo special kashering to avoid chametz or other non-kosher contaminants.

As with many other products, liquor manufacturers and marketers often respond to the expressed interest for kosher certification by kosher consumers — for Pesach and all year round. If you want it kosher, ask for it to be kosher.

“Although the laws … are fairly strict, those regarding equipment that processed alcohol are that much more so.”

Types Of Liquor

Whiskey. Scotch whiskey always contains malted barley and is therefore always chametz. Bourbon must always contains a majority of corn (kitniyot) and typically a minority of barley, wheat and/or rye (chametz). It is however possible to produce whiskey exclusively from corn, and when the abovementioned conditions have been met, it can
be kitniyot approved.

Vodka. Vodka is based on neutral spirits (distilled to near alcohol purity), and can be produced from any source. While most frequently wheat and corn based, vodka can be made from potatoes, sugar or fruits. When based on Pesach ingredients and produced under the right conditions, vodka can achieve Pesach status.

Gin. Gin is a flavored vodka. When produced with Pesach-approved herbs or flavorings under appropriate conditions, it too can be certified for Pesach.

Rum. Based on sugar molasses rum; under the right conditions can be kosher for Pesach.

Tequila. Based on the agave fruit; under the right conditions can be produced kosher for Pesach.

Brandy. Distilled from fruit wine, and in the case of grape wine — especially kosher-processed wine — brandy can and often is produced for Pesach.

Download the OU Guide to Passover here.

Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz

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