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December 12, 2010

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Spirits keeping kosher

KOSHER drinkers have more to cheer about this holiday season as a growing number of spirits producers seek and receive the seal of approval from Jewish dietary authorities.

"It's an additional process and expense that raises the bar on quality," said Ralph Mizraji, who this year brought out a new vodka that is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, the largest certifying body in the world.

Called L'Chaim, Hebrew for "To life!", Mizraji's vodka is a corn-based product imported from Israel and made according to a generations-old Russian recipe brought to that country by Jewish immigrants.

L'Chaim is distributed in Florida, New York and New Jersey and within the first three months sold 2,400 cases, says Mizraji. He is in the process of developing kosher wine, tequila and rum.

Among those appreciatively watching the trend in kosher spirits is Joshua Hatton, president and founder of the Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society. He was pleased to see single malt whiskeys from producers Ardbeg and Glenmorangie recently achieve kosher certification.

"You're seeing it more and more," he said, noting that there are two trends intersecting. More producers are discovering that there is a market for kosher liquors. Meanwhile, more Jews are becoming interested in keeping kosher, which seems to be related to the general increased interest among Americans in what they are eating and drinking.

At the New York-based Orthodox Union, Rabbi Moshe Elefant is seeing strong interest in kosher spirits, with certified alcoholic products growing by about 10 percent a year.

Unlike wine, which has to pass a number of regulatory requirements before being certified, liquor made from grain or sugar starts out relatively close to kosher. For certification, the equipment must be inspected to make sure it meets standards; for instance, if a tank held a product containing dairy ingredients for more than 24 hours, it would have to be sterilized, and there also are business procedures which must be followed.

Elefant finds that people are more interested in keeping kosher these days. But unlike earlier generations they are not willing to sacrifice premium products. "They want the Scotch and they want the liquor and they want the highest level of kosher," he said.

The result, says Elefant: "Kosher liquor is hot."


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