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'Beer Halacha': Clarifying The Kashrus of Beer
Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Star-K Kashrus Administrator; Editor, Kashrus Kurrents

Hashem, in his ultimate kindness, has provided man with the keys to unlock some of nature’s most amazing secrets.  For centuries, a great secret has been revealed to man – the bubbling elixir known as beer.


Beer’s ingredients – water, barley, yeast and hops – bear no resemblance to the finished product.  These natural ingredients undergo a series of simple yet fascinating processes to convert them into one of the world’s most popular beverages.  It is not coincidental that alcoholic beverages have been given the distinctive appellation “spirits”, alluding to the fact that these beverages seem to magically emerge from these natural ingredients as if they have been assisted by spirits.  The four steps of beer making are malting, roasting, brewing and fermenting.


THE PROCESS:  The first step of beer making combined barley and water in a process known as malting.  The barley kernel is composed of germ, endosperm, and a layer of bran.  The living part of the barley, the germ, lies dormant until it is planted or comes into contact with water.  Once the germ comes into contact with water, it germinates and begins growing.


The starch in the endosperm provides the nourishment needed for the living germ.  However, it is too difficult for the germ to digest the starch without assistance.  Therefore, the germ secretes an enzyme that breaks down the starch into simpler sugars, which can be digested more easily.  Although barley is not sweet at all, it has been discovered that barley which has been soaked in water and allowed to sprout produces a sweet syrup.  This is a result of barley’s natural germination process.  This enzymatic conversion of barley into fermentable sugars is known as malting.  The barley malting process lasts for 48 hours, thus enabling the barley to begin germinating and sprouting.


The sprouted barley grain is then roasted.  Roasting is a vital step in the ultimate creation of beer’s color and flavor.  Adjusting the roasting time, temperature, and amount of barley will cause a variation in the beer’s color and flavor.  A longer, higher roast produces a darker, more flavorful barley; hence, a darker more flavorful beer.  Conversely, a lower shorter roast produces a less flavorful beer.


The roasted barley kernels are then ground into a grain mixture called a grist.  Sometimes, with bland beers the barley is mixed with other cereal grains such as corn, wheat or rice to make the grist.  The grist is then mixed with hot water to form a mash.  The purpose of the mashing is to continue the malting process where the germinating barley left off.  This process allows the enzymes contained in the grain to convert the starches of the mashed grains into sugar.  The sweet liquid solution created by the germinated grain water is called a wort.


Hops, dried flowers from the spice-like hops plant, are now added to the wort to create a hopped wort.  There are many varieties and forms of hops grown throughout the world. The hopped wort is brewed in a copper or stainless steel kettle, imparting a unique aroma and cooked flavor into the wort.  The liquid is now ready to be converted into beer.


In order to understand how this sweetened hopped wort is converted into an alcoholic beverage, one must understand another of nature’s wonders – the fermentation process. Fermentation, one of nature’s unique phenomenon, is a process by which yeast – a fungus found in nature – converts sugar into carbon dioxide (natural carbonation) and alcohol. In beer production, yeast converts the sweetened wort into beer through fermentation.


Though there are literally thousands of yeasts, the two popular fermenting yeasts are Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a top fermenting yeast that produces ales, and Saccharomyces uvarum, a bottom fermenting yeast that produces lager.  Other ales and lagers can be light or dark, strong or weak, more flavorful or bland, depending upon the temperature, ingredients and brewing methods.


Beer making has been known for centuries, yet throughout the millennia it has been elevated into an art from.  Today, there are a multitude of beers, each with a full spectrum of flavors and colors.  How do the beermeisters do it?  By varying beer’s natural ingredients – grain, hops and yeast – and modifying the roasting and brewing methods, new flavorful varieties are created.

In the world of new beer production technologies, the key term of successful brewing is consistency and uniformity.  In recent decades, scientific discovery has enabled brewmeisters to comprehend the simple centuries-old process of beer making.  Technological scientific research has shown that additives and processing aids can provide the assistance needed to deliver a consistent and uniform product, though not necessarily a beer with more character.


KASHRUS CONSIDERATIONS:  Hydrogen peroxide, bromade, or other alkalis can be used to accelerate malt germination.  Natural enzymes (such as papain or bromelin) or industrial enzymes (such as amyloglucosidase or aspergillus niger) can supplement an enzyme-deficient mash to help break the starches into sugars and facilitate brewing.  Hops extracts can be added for flavor.  If necessary, papain or tannin can assist in the removal of unwanted protein resulting in a clearer, brighter beer.  After brewing, natural clarifiers such as isinglass finings (prepared from ground tropical fish), gelatin, silica gel, or a synthetic clarifier poly-vinyl poly prolamine (PVPP) remove dark particles from the beer, giving the final product a crystal clear appearance.  If the completed product needs bolstering, caramel color may be added for coloring, extra carbon dioxide for carbonation, or alginates for head retention.  In all, over 59 chemicals or additives are legally permitted to be used as beer additives.


Gelatin and isinglass clarifiers are typically not used in domestic beers.  Isinglass finings is a traditional British beer clarifier that has been used for centuries in the United Kingdom.  It is fascinating to note that over two hundred years ago, the Noda B’Yehudah[1] permitted the use of the isinglass clarifier.[2]  A clarifier only filters unwanted particles and is not present in the final beverage.  Although the Noda B’Yehudah concludes that the use of isinglass is halachically permissible, in order to certify a beer using isinglass clarification the finings would have to be processed with hashgacha and treated as any other processing aid that requires reliable kosher certification. 


FLAVORINGS:   Traditional beers do not have added flavorings.  Honey, cherry flavorings, other fruit flavorings, and spices are used to make flavored products and, by law, must be termed “Flavored  Beers.”  Some beers add lactose, a milk sugar, which would definitely require kosher certification, and the beer would be considered Dairy.


YEAST:  Barley wine is a specialty beer that could possibly be fermented with non-kosher wine or champagne yeast, and would definitely require kosher certification.


NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER:  The production of non-alcoholic beer is similar to regular beer, with one additional step.  After the wort is fermented, the alcohol is distilled off through boiling or other techniques.  The product that remains is a non-alcoholic beverage.




We are all familiar with the omer sacrifice that was brought to the Bais Hamikdash on the second day of Pesach.  The Korbon Ha’Omer (omer sacrifice) was offered from freshly cut barley.  The Torah stipulates that prior to the omer offering, the consumption of the newly harvested crop was forbidden.  This previously forbidden grain is known as chodosh (NEW), while its newly permitted status is known as yoshon (OLD).  How does halacha determine what constitutes chodosh grain or yoshon grain?  If the grain was planted and harvested before Pesach, the grain automatically becomes yoshon after the omer sacrifice.  Similarly, grain that has taken root before Pesach, and is harvested after Pesach, is deemed yoshon after the Korbon Ha’Omer.  However, grain that was planted close to or after Pesach, thereby taking root after the omer sacrifice was offered on the 16th of Nissan, is deemed chodosh, and one is not permitted to eat this chodosh grain until the following Pesach, after the subsequent year’s omer sacrifice.[3]  


The grains that are included in the chodosh prohibition are wheat, barley, oats rye and spelt.  These are known as the chameishes minei dagan, the five types of cereal grain.[4]  Corn, rice soy, millet and other cereal grains are not included in this prohibition.


There are many opinions regarding what is halachically considered yoshon.  Obviously, if the grain was harvested before Pesach, the grain automatically becomes yoshon after the omer sacrifice was made.  The majority of Poskim maintain that chodosh restrictions apply to grains and products produced from the five types of cereal grains belonging to either a Yehudi or non-Yehudi, in or out of Eretz Yisroel..[5]    Halachically, everyone must strictly adhere to the observance of yoshon.  Sefardim, who follow the opinion of Maran Beit Yosef, are strict yoshon adherents.  However, there are many who rely on the lenient opinions regarding grains grown outside Eretz Yisroel.[6]  Grain products that are manufactured chutz l’aretz from the chameishes minei dagan and exported to Eretz Yisroel are required to be certified yoshon by the Import Division of the Israeli Chief Rabbanut, Rabbanut Harashit L’Yisroel. 


Through the painstaking efforts of R’ Yosef Herman, yoshon adherents have been schooled in the art of reading production dates and codes, which serve as the yoshon cut-off dates for literally thousands of products:  flour,  cookies, bread crumbs, cereals, pasta, and even beer!  However, yoshon beer cut-off date is not as simple as it looks.   


How do the laws of chodosh impact beer production?  There are numerous varieties of barley worldwide.  Generally, barley can be of a two-row variety or of a six-row variety; two-row variety is more predominantly used in beer production.  Also, there are winter varieties of barley and spring varieties of barley.  Winter barley is planted in September and stays dormant throughout the winter, re-emerges in the spring, and is harvested in June and July.  Winter barley is always yoshon by virtue of its planting/harvesting schedule.  Spring barley is planted in the U.S. during April and May, and is harvested from the end of August until the end of September. Although the new year spring barley harvest begins at the end of August, it takes approximately three months before the new crop is cycled into production.

In order for a freshly harvested spring barley crop to become yoshon, one would have to wait 6-7 months from the harvest in August/September until the subsequent Pesach.  Once the chodosh spring variety of barley ‘passes over’ Pesach, the previously chodosh barley automatically becomes yoshon.   Moreover, all products that were produced using chodosh barley – or any of the other chameishis minei dagan – automatically become yoshon and may be consumed by yoshon adherents after Pesach until the new chodosh barley crop is cycled into production and the cycle begins anew.  But there is quite a bit of chodosh beer produced before Pesach.  How do we calculate the yoshon/chodosh cut-off date that differentiates the old produce from the new?

Let us now take a virtual tour of the production process of Samuel Adams Boston lager. As previously stated, the harvesting of the spring barley begins the end of August and lasts until the end of September.  This is what is used for the initial cycling of new grain for the new brewing season.  The new grain remains in storage until the harvest is complete.  Malting takes place during the last week of September, and is then roasted.  The malted barley is then ready to provide all the essential nutrients for beer production, but the new crop is not immediately cycled into production. 


It takes approximately 4 to 5 weeks to transport the roasted barley to the processing plants.  The new grain is stored in grain silos.  When the new crop of roasted barley is ready for further processing, the next vital production stages proceed quite rapidly.  The roasted barley is ground into a grist and mixed with warm water to form a mash.  The conversion of the starches into fermentable sugars takes place by carefully heating the mixture to activate  the natural enzymes.  The malt extract solution that is created through this conversion is known as the wort.  The combined wort and grain are conveyed to a lauter tun, where the wort is separated from the spent grain. The wort is then conveyed to a boiling kettle and hops are added for bittering, flavor, and color as well as to deactivate the malting enzymes.  The wort is then cooled.  This segment takes 8 to 10 hours.


Yeast is then added, and a 7-day primary fermentation takes place.  At the end of the primary fermentation, Boston lager goes through an additional 28-day secondary fermentation known as lagering.  After lagering, the beer is filtered, filled, packaged, and stored.  There is a 5 month shelf life indicated by the Sell By date.  So, in the case of Boston lager, the yoshon cut-off date would be April 2014.

MICRO-BREWERIES:  Micro-breweries produce beer on a far smaller scale than their industrial counterparts, and are subject to far more scrutiny.  In the past, it was believed that a micro-brewery was more purist, scrupulously adhering to the traditional, additive-free brewing methods.  The traditional  Bavarian Reinheitsgebot[7] dictates that beer can be made using only four ingredients:  barley, yeast, water, and hops.  Since microbreweries have been caught using non-kosher ingredients and unconventional brewing experimentation, their general acceptance has come under the microscope.


THE BOTTOM LINE:  How should the kosher beer enthusiast conduct himself?  Of course, the best case scenario is to purchase beer with kosher certification.  However, our research has shown that all the raw ingredients and additives used in domestic beers, Norwegian beers, and German beers do not present kashrus concerns.  English beers are permitted; stouts require certification due to the fact that lactose, a milk sugar, can be used in the stout brew.  Halacha gives us the latitude to follow such a presumption.  In circumstances where facts or evidence overwhelmingly prove that there are no kashrus concerns, the Torah tells us to follow the dictates of the evidence.[8]  However, specialty beers such as flavored beers, barley wines, and unusual foreign beers would require kosher certification due to insufficient information regarding the production of these products.  Moreover, strict adherents to yoshon would have to know exactly when the new spring barley crop was cycled into production and when is the yoshon cut-off date from their favorite brew. 


We hope this article will give our kosher beer enthusiasts a healthy appreciation of the Ribbono Shel Olam’s niflaos.


[1] (נודע ביהודה ח' יו"ד ס' כ"ו מ' קמ"ב)

[2]  מכל הטעמים הנ"ל נראה שמותר לתת הויזן בלאזי"ין לתוך היין או המשקה שקורין בפולין מע"ד כיון שאין הכוונה לבטלו רק …” (שם)

להצליל המשקה ולהוריד השמרים

[3] Y.D. Siman 293:3

[4] Ibid: 2

[5] Ibid: 2 O.C. Siman 489..10.  There is a minority opinion which states that yoshon applies only to grains owned by a Yehudi. Y.D. 293 Taz 2       ולית  הלכתא כוותי'

[6] Y.D. Siman 293 Rema 3;  O.C. 489 M.B. 45  (בסוף)

[7] (Beer Purity Law)

[8] הולכין אחר הרוב

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