The following is taken directly from the OU’s Daf Hakashrus. SHERRY CASKS Rabbi Eli Gersten, RC Recorder of OU Psak and Policy
Many whiskeys advertise on their labels that they have been “sherry cask matured”, or “sherry cask finished”, or will just print the words “sherry cask”. Simply put, this means that the whiskey was kavush in a sherry cask. Unless the whiskey has a hechsher, the sherry cask they are referring to was a barrel of stam yaynam. Some Rabbonim are maikel and allow drinking these whiskies, while other Rabbonim say that one should stay away. Why are there different opinions? What are some of the halachic questions involved with whiskey that was stored in such barrels, and why does the OU not permit serving these whiskeys at their establishments? Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 135:13) says that only a k’dei klipa (thin layer) of a wine barrel becomes assur. Since the volume of whiskey stored in these barrels is much more than 60 times the k’dei klipa of the barrel, the bliyos of wine are batel in the whiskey. Another sevara why Rabbonim are maikel with whiskey aged in sherry casks is because Shulchan Aruch (137:4) says that one may place water, beer or sha’ar mashkim into a clean wine barrel. The bliyos of wine that are absorbed in the barrel are nosain ta’am lifgam into these mashkim. Although Rema (Y.D. 137:1) paskens that wine barrels always have the status of a ben yomo, even if they have not been used for many months, however wine barrels are only mashbiach other wines. Since whiskey is not wine, it too should be included in this heter of sha’ar mashkim. This sevara would only apply to ordinary sherry casks, where the intent is to mellow the barrels, and they are not interested in the sherry taste. But this sevara would not apply to refurbished casks, which are loaded up with sherry, and the intent is to leach sherry into the whiskey. In this case, it is clearly intended as ta’am lishvach. In those whiskies where the intention is for the taste of sherry, it is possible that bitul would not help since it is ikro l’kach. Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 134:13) paskens like the Rashba that any drink which it is the derech to mix in wine is forbidden, even if the wine is less than shishim. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igeros Moshe Y.D. I:63) explains that Shulchan Aruch paskens that issurei hana’ah, such as stam yaynam, that are ikro l’kach are not batel. However, Rema writes that b’zman ha’zeh b’makom hefsed we do not consider stam yaynam issurei han’ah. Furthermore, the Mishna (Avoda Zara 29b) says that kosher wine placed in a stam yaynam barrel does not become assur b’hanah (only assur b’shetiya). So the chumra of ikro l’kach would seem not to apply here. Although placing whiskey into these barrels would still be a form of bitul issur, however if a non-Jew is mivatel issur, especially if his intention is to sell to other non-Jews, then according to many Achronim, it is permissible for a Jew to purchase this product. One more consideration is the age of the barrel. Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 135:15) says that a wine barrel that was not used for 12 months is permitted. Although these wine barrels have a chezkas issur, this is a chazaka ha’assuya l’hishtanos. However, this heter is not so clear, since whiskey manufacturers are interested in moist barrels, and will even transport the barrels with some sherry still in them to keep them from drying out. Although sherry casks add color to the whiskey, and in certain cases we say that chazusa is not batel, nevertheless in this case the chazusa is batel. This is because we pasken like the Pri Chadash (Y.D. 102:5) that chazusah of issurei d’rabbanan are batel. However, there are compelling sevaros to be machmir as well. Sherry is the name of a Spanish wine that is fortified with grape alcohol. Alcohol content of an average wine will range about 12-13%, but alcohol content of Sherry will range from 15 to 22%. Is sherry still considered just a wine, or due to the added alcohol is it considered a davar charif like yayin saraf? Noda B’Yehuda (Tinyana Y.D. 67) says that although wine will only assur a kdei klipa of the barrel, wine alcohol will be absorbed throughout the entire thickness of the barrel. The volume of whiskey to the thickness of the barrel is not even six to one. So if sherry is viewed as a davar charif, the bliyos would not be batel. Furthermore, Noda B’yehuda (Tinyana Y.D. 58) writes that wine alcohol is nosain ta’am lishvach into whiskey. So if indeed sherry is considered a davar charif, the whiskey would be assur. Even if we were to accept that the alcohol content in sherry is not high enough to consider it a davar charif, there are still reasons to be machmir not to drink these whiskeys. Shach (Y.D. 135:33) says that if we know that wine was kavush in a barrel for more than 24 hours then wine is absorbed in the entire thickness of the barrel, and not just the k’dei klipa. Although most Achronim do not follow this opinion, Chachmas Adam (Klal 81:6) writes that unless it is a tzorech gadol, one should be machmir to follow Shach. Therefore, one should avoid these whiskeys, since the volume of whiskey is not enough to be mivatel the entire barrel. It is difficult to apply nosain ta’am lifgam to whiskey, since whiskey is a davar charif. Ordinarily we assume that all bliyos, even ta’am pagum, are lishvach in a davar charif, especially here where we see that the sherry is mashbiach. Rav Belsky has also said that in some instances, such as when they use refurbished sherry casks, the intention of storing the whiskey in these barrels is to draw out the flavor. Perhaps this should be compared to cheres Hadreini and not to regular barrels. Cheres Hadreini was pottery that was allowed to absorb much wine, so that the flavor could be extracted later. The Mishna (Avoda Zara 29b) says that wine absorbed in cheres Hadreini remains assur b’hanah. If these bliyos remain assur b’hanah, they can assur the whiskey, even if they are batel b’shishim, since it is ikro l’kach. Although, we mentioned above that Rema does not consider stam yaynam b’zman ha’zeh to be issurei hana’ah, this is only when there is a makom hefsed. Another reason to avoid these whiskeys is because of bitul issur lichatchila. Radvaz (III:547) writes that lichatchila one should not purchase from a non-Jew a product that they know contains issur, even though the issur is batel. He was concerned that if one was permitted to purchase this item, this would lead to eventually asking the nonJew to prepare it for them. There is large machlokes Achronim whether we follow this Radvaz (See Yebiah Omer Y.D. VII:7). Although Igeros Moshe (Y.D. I:62) seemingly was not machmir for Radvaz, nevertheless he frowned on purchasing whiskey that relied on bitul: למהדרין ראוי ל”וז ליזהר מדברים שצריך הוראת חכם כהא דחולין דף ל“ז ודף מ“ד ואיפסק ברמ“א ס“ס קט“ז וכ“ש אוסרין גם שיש בזה. It should be noted that Rav Moshe zt”l was not discussing whiskey stored in sherry casks, which have additional considerations l’kula u’lichumra (as outlined above), but whiskey to which small amounts of wine were added. But it would seem that his caution is applicable here as well. Because of all of these concerns, the OU does not permit “sherry cask” whiskeys to be served by their caterers or at their restaurants. However, unflavored whiskey that is not labeled sherry cask and there is no reason to assume it was kavush in a sherry cask is permitted, as per Rema (Y.D. 114:10). Rema says if it is not necessary to add wine to a certain food, unless one knows for sure that the non-Jew added wine, it is permitted. The same rationale can be applied to a blend of many whiskeys. Since each individual whiskey might not have been stored in a sherry cask, the blend is permitted as well.
I will just note that Dayan Usher Weiss disagrees (Minchas Asher Chelek 1) and amongst other things asks where in the Gemora there is there a concept of Nosen Taam that takes say 10 years? He argues that Nosen Taam is always used in the context of an immediate or semi-immediate reaction as per the examples in the Gemora.