Have you ever found yourself at a sholom zachar or kiddush, looking at a beer called IPA or witbier? Or maybe stout, pale ale, hefeweizen, and saison?
Perhaps you think you have entered a beer wonderland. After seeing light lager after light lager, these endless choices can cause you to go into a tizzy.
Once you realize that these are indeed real beers, your first reaction is, which one of these should I try first?
However, the next and more important reaction should be.
Are these kosher?
Well, isn’t beer one of the products that doesn’t need a hechsher, you think.
The answer is…..well, there is no short answer, but for the most part beer in and of itself is kosher to drink even without a hechsher (think Budweiser, Heineken, Corona just to name a few).
The reason for this is, is that beer is made from four core ingredients none the which have any kashrus issues. Those ingredients are malted grain, (barley, wheat, rice, corn) hops, water and yeast.
However, when it comes to what is known as craft beer there are exceptions.
The first concern and the one that is easier to be aware of is flavorings
While it is true that most standard (read non-craft) beer is unflavored. Adding flavor to beer has become more common recently even amongst ‘mainstream’ beer. (e.g. Bud Light Lime)
When it comes to added flavorings, all major American Kashrus Agencies maintain that flavored beer needs a hashgacha.
There are various reasons for this. The primary reason is that when a food product which is governed by the strict FDA; states that it has natural flavors added, as long as the flavor is natural-based and not chemical-based it is allowed to be called natural. This is true even if the flavor origin has no relation to the flavor it is representing.
This article by Rabbi Heber of the Star-K points to a raspberry flavoring called castoreum. Castoreum is taken from beaver glands and is 100% legal to use and state on the product that it is naturally flavored!
While this is obviously treif and assur to consume, there are other less obvious concerns as well, and the article discusses them in depth.
Beer on the other hand is governed by the TTB which is even less strict when it comes to stating ingredients. Therefore, when a beer is flavored, even if it says cherry flavored there is no way of knowing if there are actual cherries in the beer, or perhaps some form of cherry flavor that can come from a foreign product that happens to be natural.
Therefore, it is very much recommended to stay away from flavored beers (and hard seltzers, lemonades etc) unless they have proper certification.
You might ask, well how do I know if a beer is flavored?
The good news is that more than 99% of flavored beers I have come across, state on the label that it is indeed a flavored beer. Therefore, if the beer is flavored you would know about it.
The next question is, how do I know if it is kosher-certified?
The answer is that many, if not most of the kosher certified beers have a hashgacha symbol on the label or in some cases the packaging. So, all it takes is some good old-fashioned label checking!
In the rare case where the brewery doesn’t put the hashgacha on the label, the CRC has an often-updated list that lists all kosher-certified beer. This list should help you seek out kosher-certified beers.
Some common kosher-certified brands are Samuel Adams, New Belgium, and Saranac.
The second and more difficult to be aware of concern, is when a craft brewery makes a non-kosher beer on the same lines as the brew their ‘regular’ beers.
A prime example of this is Dogfish Head Beer based in Delaware.
They have been known to experiment with lobsters and recently made a beer with pork meatloaf known as a scrapple.
This beer was distributed nationally, and I personally held a bottle at a local beer shop.
The significance of this is, is that it shows us that this wasn’t just a one-off brewed on their R & D (research and development) line to be served in their taproom, but rather a production beer brewed on their regular ‘line’.
What this does is cause the whole brewing ‘line’ to be considered treif.
Without undergoing proper ‘koshering’ the keilim or vessels can possibly remain treif for the remainder of the time they are being used.
Therefore, the kashrus agencies recommend that it is best to avoid all beers made by these breweries.
To be clear, this also includes the unflavored beers from these breweries.
While the average consumer won’t know which breweries brew with treif ingredients.
The CRC also has a list of not-recommended breweries and most of those are not recommended for this very reason.
While it is not possible to memorize this list, a couple of common breweries (in addition to Dogfish) are Abita & Flying Fish.
To conclude, if a craft beer is unflavored and not made in a brewery that brews with treif ingredients, then it is indeed okay to drink.
The world of beer is a big & exciting place that is waiting to be explored.
However, please remember to choose your beer responsibly.