During the Hakafot, the dancing around the Torahs at Simchat Torah, a full bar emerged in the social hall. There were a number of extremely high quality adult beverages available, including some fine scotch and vodka. One of the drinks brought out was Bailey’s Original Irish Cream. I had always been under the impression that Bailey’s was the rare exception in alcoholic beverages that was unkosher. As a result, I asked that it be removed.
After Simchat Torah, in a much more sober state of mind, several congregants asked that I research the matter a bit more. I suspect the motivation was entirely out of the interesting nature of the question and nothing to do with the delicious quality of the drink in question. Before I can answer the question, however, I need to make some preliminary comments on the kashrut of alcoholic beverages in general.
Distilled liquors have always been permitted without supervision. There is no enzymatic process in their distillation. Scotch, whiskey, vodka, and so forth are much more limited in their ingredients to malts and water. Some have raised questions about scotch being finished in a port barrel, as that brings the scotch into contact with wine precisely for the purpose of flavoring it, but few authorities even in the orthodox world have forbidden such drinks. For this reason, most alcoholic drinks, including beer, are permitted.
As a notable exception, wine does require Rabbinic supervision. According to Rabbi Elliot Dorff’s Rabbinic response on this question, the kashrut of wines is questionable for two reasons. First, the Talmud in Avodah Zarah forbids non-Jewish wine because it is regularly used for idolatrous purposes. The Talmud further forbids wine that has even been touched by non-Jews unless it is mevushal, or boiled. It is assumed that non-Jews wouldn’t use boiled wine, which is generally less good, for idolatry. Rabbi Dorff rejects this concern as irrelevant in our modern context. For this reason, I am comfortable drinking non-mevushal Kosher wines without any concerns of who has touched the bottle.
Second, the wine process is extremely secretive and involves the uses of chemicals and enzymes whose origins may be either dairy or meat. As a result, Rabbi Dorff suggests that American made wines without kosher supervision are probably fine but should be considered dairy while European wines of high quality should be avoided as they may have cows blood in them as a fining agent. Rabbi Dorff recommends drinking exclusively kosher wines because of this secretive nature of the wine industry.
There is a third category of drink into which Bailey’s falls. Bailey’s is a mixture of Irish whiskey, cream, and “other fine Irish flavorings.” Invented in 1974, this drink involves the use of certain enzymes to bind the cream to the rest of the drink. Bailey’s does not reveal to the public the exact ingredients. Like any packaged product, Bailey’s would require a heksher, a kosher mark.
As it happens, the Bailey’s bottle has no heksher on it. One congregant told me she thought it was under the supervision of the London Kosher Board. In my own research, I discovered that Star K, a U.S. based kosher board, lists Bailey’s as “not recommended.” That is a new kosher category of which I was previously unaware. Star K should be clear what their issue is.
I sent an email to the London Vaad, and they confirmed that Bailey’s Original Irish Cream is indeed under supervision. It is the custom in England to list products that are kosher instead of marking each individual product. Since it is under supervision, we can assume that all the ingredients used are kosher dairy. I also discovered that Bailey’s has a shelf life once opened of 48 months if kept in a cool dry place. Put another way, next year at Simchat Torah it will be my pleasure to drink a l’chaim of Bailey’s.
Rabbi David Booth