Is whisky vegan, kosher or gluten-free?

Whether for health, ethical or religious reasons: For many people, it is a matter of the heart to pay attention to the ingredients of the food they eat or how it was produced. That's why our customers often ask whether whisky is vegan, gluten-free or kosher. Good question! Whisky contains only three ingredients: grain, water and yeast. Barley is used in single malt whisky, corn in bourbon and rye in rye whisky. Other grains such as wheat, millet or oats are also used in some cases as whisky ingredients. Water is added, of course, to turn the grain into a liquid spirit and yeast is needed to initiate fermentation. We want to know more: Is whisky considered vegan, gluten-free or kosher? In the following videos, Horst Lüning tries to get to the bottom of these concerns.

Is whisky vegan?

The question is not quite so simple to answer. For many, veganism is not only a way of eating, but also a way of life that rejects the use of animals and animal products. In addition to food such as meat and dairy products, this also applies to clothing, for example made of leather or wool, as well as cosmetics or medicines with animal content. We now know that whisky consists of only three ingredients: grain, water and yeast. If a whisky is coloured, the sugar caramel used for this is also obtained from starch, i.e. grain. Vegan opinions differ on the question of whether yeast is vegan: fungi, to which yeasts belong, have a very complex protein structure that is more similar to that of animals than plants. For those who do not reject these fungi, single malt whisky remains vegan. A brief excursion into history shows that this was not always the case: in the past, small amounts of curd soap were often added to the spirit during distillation to prevent the liquid in the still from boiling over. Since curd soap is made from sodium bicarbonate and lower quality animal fats, animal products were indeed found in whisky back then! Today, of course, this is no longer the case as there are stricter regulations on ingredients in whisky. Like the interpretation of yeast as vegan or non-vegan, the decision whether products treated with pesticides or pest control agents during cultivation are considered vegan or not is also up to the individual. Every person who lives vegan decides this for themselves. The deeper one delves into the matter, the more questions arise. In view of our world food problems, one should certainly ask oneself: "Is it even allowed to drink whisky? In addition to organic whiskies made from organic grain (for example, from Benromach or Bruichladdich), there are also eco-whiskies that are produced sustainably and whose production has as little impact on the environment as possible. Clearly, there are many aspects to consider with regard to sustainability in whisky. The only question is whether this is worthwhile. The market for vegan whisky is not particularly large, but you only have to look at the intersection between vegans and whisky connoisseurs. You quickly realise that you are in a niche segment. The original question of whether whisky is vegan, on the other hand, can be answered with 'yes' from today's perspective (if one disregards the luxury and ethical aspects).

Is whisky gluten-free?

Our customers ask this question at regular intervals. This is because coeliac disease, i.e. gluten intolerance, is widespread in this country. The disease is an inflammation of the mucous membrane of the small intestine, which can become so severe that food can no longer be digested. As you can imagine, this sometimes has dire consequences, starting with loss of appetite and ending with vomiting and weight loss. Unfortunately, coeliac disease is not yet treatable; sufferers must also avoid foods containing gluten in order to avoid symptoms. Basically, gluten is a protein complex that is commonly referred to as glue protein and ensures that flour mixed with water acquires its doughy texture. Wheat, spelt, rye and durum wheat naturally contain a lot of gluten (around 15%, even up to 30-35% when moist). Oats and barley, on the other hand, contain less gluten by nature, so there is also less gluten in single malt whisky made from barley malt. There are also naturally gluten-free grains, including millet, corn and rice. Whiskey lovers may immediately think of bourbon, but that contains at least 51% corn and mostly wheat and barley, which are gluten-containing grains. Blended whisky consists of industrial alcohol (mostly from wheat) and malt whisky. Single malt whisky is probably most suitable for people with gluten intolerance. Some gluten is probably lost in the production process. In the mash tun, the malted barley is soaked and sugar is washed out. What is further processed contains less protein; the remaining protein 'draff' often goes to agriculture as animal feed. Nevertheless, the so-called 'wort' is still slightly cloudy, i.e. it still contains grain residues. During distillation, these solid parts tend to stick to the inside of the still. The grain residues therefore do not end up in the condensers with the raw spirit, but are disposed of afterwards with the distillation residues. We can only speculate whether and how much gluten is contained in the final whisky product. We assume that, based on the previous description, it cannot be much. In the nutrient information on whisky bottles, protein is usually listed as '0'. In the end, it depends on the severity of the gluten intolerance. If it is very pronounced, you should look for whisky that does not contain gluten. If it is not too severe, any residual gluten in the whisky left over from the distillation process should be acceptable. In all probability, single malt whisky made from barley malt does not contain gluten. However, only a chemical analysis can provide certainty.

Is whisky kosher?

Let us start by saying that whisky is by nature a kosher spirit. However, this can change depending on the barrels in which it matures. Wine, or even sherry, is only considered kosher under very specific conditions. Examples of kosher whisky are Glenrothes Alba Reserve or M&H Elements Sherry Cask. For the Glenrothes, no sherry casks were chosen, but only ex-bourbon casks, and the M&H was even specially matured in kosher sherry casks from Israel. Why is sherry not kosher? Kosher means harmless or pure; in relation to the Jewish dietary laws not only in a hygienic sense, but also in a spiritual sense. To make a kosher wine, you have to observe a few things: For example, one may not harvest from the vines before the fourth year, just as one may not harvest in the seventh year because of the Sabbath commandment; one may not fertilise organically for a few months before the harvest, because this would bring bacteria into contact with the grapes. There is also a social aspect: one percent of the wine must be given free of charge to the needy. So there is a lot to keep in mind for kosher wine! Is kosher whisky a big issue in the world? 0.4% of the world's population belongs to Judaism, which is about 28 million people. How many of these people actually value a kosher lifestyle is not known. Single malt whisky is of interest to only 0.3% of the world's population. If we now calculate an intersection of the two 'groups', statistically we arrive at 28,000 Jewish whisky lovers. So there is a market, but it is also very small.