“Beer” Chometz – An overview of Beer Distribution in Baltimore and Chometz She’avar Alav haPesach

It was discovered last year that much of the beer sold in Baltimore and surrounding counties was distributed by Jewish owned companies, creating a significant issue for our community. It seems  the problem will repeat itself this year, since it was not possible to arrange a proper mechiras chometz with these companies. The following is a brief explanation of the issue.

What exactly is Chometz?

The Torah[1] forbids eating any Chometz – leavened grain products during Pesach. Simply defined, leavening is dough or batter that has increased in volume either through yeasts or chemical means. The process of how this happens is the following.

A chemical leaven such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) react with compounds naturally present in the dough to produce carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide (CO2) released from this reaction becomes trapped inside the dough, thereby causing the dough to expand – and rise.

Another way to cause dough to rise is a process called fermentation. Yeast, a fungus naturally present in grains (or commonly added to assist this process to occur more quickly) becomes activated when it comes into contact with [warm] water. This activated yeast converts sugars that are naturally present in the dough into alcohol and CO2[2]. This CO2 is what causes the bread to rise. If the dough is allowed to ferment for a long time, it will become concentrated with enzymes and, since much of the sugars were broken down, will taste sour, referred to in the Torah as se’or – sourdough.

The only grains that will leaven are grains that contain starch and have the requisite components to react with yeast thereby causing CO2 to be released. This process is only found in the five grains, wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt. Other “grains” (e.g. rice, millet, corn, quinoa etc.) will not rise or ferment naturally when water is added, they will begin decomposing and emit a foul odor[3], and as such, are not chometz[4].

With this understanding, we can now look at the beer production process.

The Beer Production Process:

The basic steps in production of beer are malting, mashing, lautering, boiling, and fermentation. Here is a quick review of the process.

Malting is when barley is mixed with water and allowed to soak until the barley sprouts, thereby activating the natural enzymes in the grain. These enzymes convert starches in the barley into sugar. Next comes mashing, when hot water is added to the malt to further allow all the starches to turn into sugar. This is followed by lautering, where the liquid is drained off from the barley solids. This liquid is known as wart. If the process would stop here, we would have a drink that is quite sweet, so the wart is put into a tank to boil together with a flower called hops which contribute a bitter taste. Sometimes, a clarifying agent is added to the tank to help remove any undesirable protein solids that may be left over.

The final stage is fermentation. The boiled liquid is cooled and placed in a fermentation tank, yeast is added and the sugars are converted into alcohol, releasing CO2 along the way and…you have beer!

If you followed this process, you can understand quite well how the fermentation of barley into beer is exactly the process that the Torah calls chometz. This makes beer unquestionably chometz gamur[5].

 

Chometz Sheavar Alav haPesach

Besides the prohibition of consuming chometz, a Jew is also not even allowed to own chometz on Pesach and one who did violates the prohibition of ba’al yiraeh uba’al yimatzeh[6]. However, that’s as far as it goes midiOrayso. Chazal, however, enacted a prohibition of chometz she’avar alav haPesach as a knas (punishment) for violating ba’al yira’eh uba’al yimatzeh.[7] They felt that if chometz she’avar lav haPesach was allowed, people wouldn’t get rid of all their chometz. They instituted that chometz she’avar alav haPesach remains prohibited – forever and on everyone, not just for the violator.

Therefore, beer that was owned by a Jew during Pesach remains prohibited forever[8].

 

Maryland Beer Distribution

In the state of Maryland, beer distribution companies have exclusive rights to the brands that they distribute in areas that they are licensed to sell. Two major distributors in our area are known to be Jewish owned. As such, any beer sold by these distributors after Pesach has the status of chometz she’avar alav haPesach and is prohibited to be consumed.

The STAR-K beer alert lists all the affected beers as well as a partial listing of popular beers that we have been able to determine present no issue of chometz she’avar alav haPesach.

 

FAQs

Q: Why didn’t we know about this until now?

A: We were only informed of the Jewish ownership of major distributors last year.

Q: How can you know when the beer being distributed is from after Pesach?

A: The companies have excellent records and inventory tracking systems. They are working closely with us so that we are able to clearly assess when all product being sold is from after Pesach.

Q: Why does it only affect some brands in some counties?

A: It depends where the distributers are licensed to sell. They may have exclusive rights in some counties and not in others.

Q: Why is Montgomery County not affected?

A: MC is one of the few counties in the U.S. that still requires all alcohol sales to be controlled by the government. As such, the government buys and owns all the beer sold in stores, alleviating any concern of chometz she’avar alav haPesach .

Q: Why are some stores listed as not having this problem?

A: These stores have agreed to allow STAR-K to monitor their inventory. They will be stocking up before Pesach on many of the affected brands, thereby avoiding this issue. Some stores will set aside part of their stock which will be marked with STAR-K approved stickers, indicating they were bought before Pesach.

Q: What about Camden Yards?

A: The beer at Camden Yards is procured from the same distributors. Additionally, Delaware North Company (DNC), the stadium catering company, is also Jewish owned. We currently have no information as to how long into the season this problem will last.


[1] Shmos 12:15

[2] When the dough is baked, the alcohol evaporates.

[3] Reffered to in halacha as sirchon

[4] See Shulchan Aruch 453:1. Chazal still prohibited some of these “other” grains, known as kitniyos.

[5] The process of converting starches to sugars and then to alcohol which releases CO2 along the way (i.e. fermentation) precisely defines the leavening process. In dough, the CO2 is trapped and causes the dough to rise. With beer, it creates the carbonation, a defining characteristic of beer. See Shulchan Aruch O”C 442:5 and M”B there #24.

[6] Shmos 12:19, Devorim 16:4

[7] See Pesachim 29a.

[8] The Shaarei Teshuva in 442:3 brings a Noda B’Yehuda that talks about whiskey, which is simply put, distilled beer. He entertains the idea that maybe whiskey is not chometz gamur and only considered zaiya b’alma/extracted juice. However, in the end, he does not conclude this way. Also see M”B 442:4. Either way, beer, which is not distilled, would NOT have this possible heter and is – according to EVERYONE, chometz gamur.