My continuing research reveals the craft beer industry is alive and flourishing. Craft brewers are bringing all kinds of tastes and flavors to beer and selling them through restaurants, small retailers, and a few are on supermarket shelves. Flavorings and spices come from around the world with little kosher supervision–see BDG statement of purpose below:

Picture of Strawberry Flavoring - 5 gal

The fastest growing segment of the spirits industry is craft beer, sports/energy drinks, and liquor with special flavorings and colorings. Even the processes for brewing, distilling, and aging these drinks are changing rapidly. Alcohol beverages are a threat to kosher and vegetarian consumers. It is time for kosher certifying agencies to warn their adherents that alcohol beverages must require a kosher certifying agency logo on each brand label.

Alcohol and beer sales remained flat for nearly two decades, while taste buds of young people changed. Demand has grown for sweeter more flavorful and exotic drinks. The industry decided to target women who find the taste of regular beer and alcohol bitter and harsh, and the metro crowd aficionados of culinary cuisine wanting chichi alcoholic drinks. Wine makers quickly responded resulting in an explosion of new wineries with new products, and sales including kosher wines are skyrocketing. Craft breweries and small distilleries are flooding the market with specialty blends, new ingredients, and brewing processes spearheading a dramatic growth in sales of beers, liquors, and especially vodkas. Little information about the ingredients and processes is readily available, but their kosherness is seldom questioned.

Goose Island Beer Company, for example, is the father of craft breweries and a favorite of Midwestern beer drinkers. They grew rapidly with 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Fleur, Pepe Nero, Honker’s, Bourbon County Stout, and more. Their beers and ales are classified under titles like URBAN, CLASSIC, VINTAGE, VINTAGE RESERVE and EXTREME. GIBC recently sold to Anheuser-Busch for nearly $40 million, and is accused by many as having sold its craft-brew soul.

Writer Jessica Festa found some of the more bizarre beers now on the market:
• Pizza tasting beer contains a mashed up Margarita pizza
• Bacon beer with bacon fat flavoring and hot Chili beer from a Mexican brewery
• Coffee beer with all kinds of real coffee and flavors added for that extra caffeine charge
• Peanut Butter, Banana Bread beers, and Crème Burlee beer is a milk stout desert drink with dark caramel malt for coloring and lactose sugar; it has a sister drink chocolate beer.

Oyster Beer. sounds delicious. Not!

A bottle of Oyster Beer sits on the shelf of my friends at one major kosher agency that I brought them from the last Craft Brewers conference.

You can easily find beer with an alcohol level to 6.5% with coloring from ruby red, dark caramel, to green. Beers, liquors, and vodkas have fruity flavors and scents described by someone as fruit cocktail drinks like peach, apple juice, watermelon cherry and berry flavorings. Others are spruced ginger, pumpkin, nutmeg, or cinnamon. Vodkas and whiskeys are sometimes aged in old fashioned pot stills like the ones used to make Cognac and Scotch; they have flavorings and colorings added for tartness or freshness and can contain blue agaves from Mexico crushed and fermented, or caraway seeds, star anise, orange, mango, and vanilla notes.
Most governments strictly control the brewing, distilling, and distribution of alcohol beverages in full cooperation with breweries and distillers; you do not hear them calling for less government regulation. In this industry it is used to protect the integrity of the beverage (you cannot call it Scotch if it is not made in Scotland), and to capture all the tax money they can get from this cash cow. Wild Turkey’s label does not read Real Whiskey, it boasts “Real Kentucky.”

Public health services make sure the breweries and distilling plants meet the highest standards, so there is never an outbreak of salmonella or e-coli that would threaten sales. The public hardly knows the ingredients or manner of making alcohol beverages, however, because these are proprietary secrets just as secretly guarded as the formula for Coca Cola (which is certified kosher). Imported beers and liquors especially from Mexico and Japan are ever increasingly popular drinks, and less is known about their ingredients than American made drinks.

Definitive data on the alcohol beverage industry are very hard to acquire. The industry is one of the largest grossing and most profitable in America, and guards the information about it with a heavy hand. Profits on wine, liquor, and beer were up 18%, sales up 5%, and exports from America up 8% over a year ago led by whiskey.

Kosher Beer

Let’s look a little closer just at beer production and sales for a taste of the size of this product sub-category:
• There are about 1,600 breweries in the U.S. This is an increase of 100 breweries over 2008. Most are microbreweries selling to the retail market.
• Six billion gallons of beer are sold every year with an annual per capita consumption of 85 liters or three million gallons.
• Craft beer sales are 12% of the beer market in 2010 accounting for 4.5 million barrels.

Kosher certification of alcohol beverages is increasing as part of the industry’s efforts to reach new markets. The kosher food market segment is $13 billion in annual sales. The web site, JUST-DRINKS, a beverage industry information site, concludes: “The market for alcoholic drinks is set to become increasingly competitive in the US, underscoring a growing need for innovation marketing and astute product development…” (emphasis added). Hennessy USA, looking to expand its US market share of high-end, single malt Scotch is has had its Glenmorangie and Ardberg certified kosher. The company redesigned its packaging and promotional materials to include the kosher logo on the package. In a statement to JUST-DRINKS, Glenmorangie’s US brand director said, “…kosher certification will bring our brand to an entirely new consumer base that can now enjoy our products.” Standard Millers and Coors and many of their new flavored beers are certified kosher also to reach new markets.

Brewers and distillers are also trying new processing methods. The equipments and land are tied up as the alcohol ages. Craft brewers and now craft distillers are loyal to the natural aging process, but they are trying different methods and ingredients speed things up and get more products to market more quickly because the demand for their drinks is so great. Coatings on the inside of bottles and cans are changing to lengthen shelf life, be more resistant to bacteria and air contamination.

Kosher Microbrewery Beer

The vegan advocate, BARNIVORE, warns that brew masters, winemakers, and distillers are experimenting and including ingredients from animals and dairy products. They heard that a whole chicken is dropped in the tank of one beverage. Filtering the drinks prio Some beers are aged in casks to absorb the flavor cabernets and other favorite wines. Wells and Young’s Brewing writes in an email to Barnivore that “All cask conditioned beers are unsuitable as they are fined using isinglass finings….Cask conditioned beer is otherwise known as ‘traditional cask beer’, and this means that it is not served from a ‘keg’ but from a ‘cask’, where the beer is naturally matured and ‘conditioned’. This type of beer is served in pubs/bars from a hand pull dispense system direct from a cask.” Vertigo Brew warns that their Apricot Crème Ale contains gelatin as a clarifier as do most of their beers. Another brewer ceased using isinglass as a filter, but replaced it with “a collagen based process aid derived from Australian beef.”

Filtering drinks prior to bottling to bottling isinglass from fish bladders, gelatin, egg whites, and seashells may be used. None of these things appear on the labels. Every other food that uses alcohol or extracts from alcohol are now the objects of concern—candies, baked goods, baking mixes, aged meats, etc.

Two special alcohol beverages deserve a closer look: sports/energy drinks and vodkas. Some of the largest alcohol producers are behind sports/energy drinks. This is a huge and fast growing market appealing to students, athletes, and anyone else who needs a drink with a boost. They are flavorful and colorful and few of them are certified kosher.

Vodka has a colorful history for such a colorless drink. Vodka is classically not aged in wooden casks, and is most often made from grains, potatoes or fruits. There are some vodkas, though, that can be questionable and straight out not kosher. Tastings.com is a great source for information about vodka. For instance, vodka can be flavored “with a mix of ginger, cloves, lemon peel, coffee, anise and other herbs and spices….”Old” Vodka, a holdover from the early centuries of Vodka production, which can be infused with everything from fruit tree leaves to brandy, Port, Malaga wine, and dried fruit….Some brands are aged in oak casks. The base for these Vodkas can vary from grains in northern countries such as the United Kingdom, Holland, and Germany, to grapes and other fruits in the winemaking regions of France and Italy….The United States and Canada produce nonflavored Vodkas, both from various grains (including corn) and from molasses. American Vodkas are, by law, neutral spirits, so the distinction between brands is more a matter of price and perception than taste.”

Finally, let the buyer beware. “Organic” and “all natural ingredients” on the label mean very little, because no one is inspecting and certifying the kashrut of these claims. The spirits market is as competitive as any in the world. Price and profit rule. Small-sized or multi-national producers cannot be trusted on their own not to cut corners with cheaper ingredients and processes to maximize profits. According to Lubicom, a kosher foods consulting/marketing company, 55% of the people who look for a kosher symbol on their food labels do so for health and safety reasons; they believe kosher certification commits brewers , distillers, and food manufacturers to a higher standard. It reassures consumers that these manufacturers hold the standards for their products to a higher authority beyond government. May be so, but without the same comprehensive and rigorous inspection and certification of alcohol beverages by kosher certifying agencies the alcohol consumer really cannot trust the true kosher, vegetarian and vegan status of their beers, liquors, and vodkas.

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