Spirits at your Simcha Part 2
At simchas and events, a well-stocked bar is often a prime attraction. Are there any kashrus concerns with the beverages served in such venues? In this installment of Let’s Talk Kashrus, Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger is joined by Rabbi Tzvi Haber, Director of Community Kashrus at the COR Kashrus Council of Canada, to discuss this fascinating topic.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger: Thank you, Rabbi Haber, for joining us.
Rabbi Tzvi Haber: It’s a great pleasure.
Rabbi Hisiger: There are a number of other issues regarding bars. Let’s talk about those.
Rabbi Haber: One serious issue with bars that people may not be aware of is that the bartender, who is provided by the venue, is usually accustomed to going into the non-kosher kitchen where his lemons and limes are stored and taking them from there. Most bartenders like to use their own knives. They will cut the lemons and limes in the non-kosher kitchen with those knives and then bring out the slices to the bar. At that point, the Mashgiach is going to be very busy with many things happening at the event. He's not a Mashgiach Temidi at the bar. So, it’s going to be very difficult to determine where and how these lemons and limes were cut.
According to halacha, lemons and limes are a davar charif. Even though the knife isn’t hot, the lemons and limes absorb the bliyos from a non-kosher knife because of the rule of “duchka d’sakina”, the knife pushes the bliyos into them. If the knives were previously used for non-kosher food, the lemons and limes absorb that residue and could become not kosher. Especially in bars where there is no kashrus supervision, this could happen all the time.
Rabbi Hisiger: Would the easiest solution be to ask the bartender not to put a lemon in one’s drink?
Rabbi Haber: Definitely. When people go on a date in a hotel lobby and ask for a cup of water, they should say to hold the lemon because it might not be kosher.
Rabbi Hisiger: The message I am getting is that it is absolutely imperative to have a Mashgiach at any event. Besides for all the other reasons, just for the bar alone it is necessary to have someone supervising.
Rabbi Haber: That’s 100% true. At unsupervised events, many things can go wrong. I’ll tell you a story to illustrate that:
A fundraising event was held in the community that had no kashrus supervision. A Mashgiach was there as a guest, and a man walked over to him holding a hamburger in one hand and a can of Canada Dry ginger ale in the other. The ginger ale had no hechsher on the can and the man asked the Mashgiach if he knew if it was kosher. The Mashgiach replied, “Silly, you’re eating a hamburger at an unsupervised event. Do you know where it came from? Do you know whose kitchen it was prepared in? You’re eating that but you’re worried about the ginger ale?”
There are a lot of issues at unsupervised events in general, but today’s topic is bars. The first thing a person has to realize is that if there is no Mashgiach, then he is his own Mashgiach. You are responsible for what goes into your mouth. You have to know what your standards are. Are they serving scotch that was aged in sherry casks? If so, are you comfortable with that? Did you ever discuss that with your Rov to understand what his opinion is on the matter?
What about beer? A lot of people think that nothing could be wrong with beer.
Rabbi Hisiger: We always hear that if it’s a domestic beer it is fine even without a hashgacha.
Rabbi Haber: That may be the case but there are some things to be concerned about. For example, today there are a lot of microbreweries. People make beer in their own homes and basements. They do lots of creative things like making flavored beers. People make oyster, bacon, clam, and lobster flavored beers. And they use the same pots and processors that these maachalos assuros were in to make unflavored beers that people assume are kosher.
How about dairy beer? Have you ever heard of dairy beer before? There is such a thing.
Rabbi Hisiger: What do you think the reason is that so many people assume that alcoholic beverages are automatically kosher?
Rabbi Haber: It’s not just a misconception. Alcoholic beverages have traditionally always been standardized. The manufacturing processes have always been the same. In many countries, the ingredients and the processes are even enshrined in law. There is a legal definition of what you can call scotch. The same is true for bourbon. There’s a limit on what you can do with those drinks.
Rabbi Hisiger: So we are relying on FDA enforcement?
Rabbi Haber: It’s even more than that. It’s a definition of what the drink is.
That is why people always assumed that most alcoholic beverages were fine. We do find this concept in the Shulchan Aruch and Rema in Yoreh Deah, where they say that we are allowed to assume that some things have a chezkas kashrus. There’s even a Rema that says that people used to use barrels that were smeared with lard and he gives a reason why it’s permitted to drink beer from such barrels.
Having said this, you have to understand that in the contemporary world everything has changed. The dynamics of the industry have changed a lot. Even though a lot has stayed the same and you can still sometimes rely on in the industry of alcohol, a lot has changed and many of the different drinks out there have become problematic. Even many brands of Canadian whiskey now have non-kosher wines mixed into them.
Rabbi Hisiger: What about other things like cappuccino machines. What problems do they present?
Rabbi Haber: Cappuccino machines are usually provided for events and parties by third-party vendors. It might not take that much to kasher them but you have to know how to do it. They might have been used for cholov akum. Also, they are milchigs and your event might be fleishigs. You have to at least know if the machine can be koshered.
The bartenders often mix use Worchester sauce into drinks. Even if its kosher, it is made of fish and you have to be careful not to drink it together with meat.
A lot of bartenders have their own metal containers that they mix drinks in. is that kosher? That’s not glass. You can’t use metal that has bliyos of devarim assurim or that was washed in non-kosher dishwasher.
They even use fresh mint, which is known to be infested with insects. Whose checking it?
So, as you can see, many issues come up.
Rabbi Hisiger: You’ve given us tons of information and insights. What’s the Let’s Talk Kashrus takeaway that can help us keep the bar high in kashrus, specifically in regards to spirits and bars?
Rabbi Haber: If there is one message that I’d like consumers, guests and baalei simcha to take home from this talk its that they are ultimately responsible for what they put in their mouth.
The world today has gotten very used to kashrus agencies certifying restaurants and hotels and all types of venues. When people go to those events, they rely fully on the kashrus agency. However, when you go to a venue that has no hashgacha and you don’t know what your putting into your mouth, then you are ultimately responsible.
So, get on the phone. Speak to your Rov. Go the bais medrash and learn some of these sugyos. Go and research some of these topics and what you find will likely surprise you.