I’ve got an aunt who likes to tell me that being a movie critic must be the best job in the world. You get to watch movies all day and write about them. What could be better, right? Real life film critics might add a few caveats, like the low pay, job insecurity, fierce competition, long hours and constant struggle against obsolescence, but hey, point taken. There are perks.
The same goes for most cultural journalists. Besides doing what we love, there are usually little extras that come with the job — review copies, advance screenings, press showings, and so on. It’s all pretty swell. But when it comes to freebies, one thing is certain: There’s no beat like the booze beat.
That’s something I learned when an invitation landed in my inbox to attend the winner’s circle of the New York International Spirits Competition on December 3 at the tony 3 West Club in Midtown Manhattan, a venue that happens to be in the same building as the Women’s National Republican Club. It was an especially pleasant surprise because, though I’ve done a couple of liquor-related pieces before, it’s not a regular subject of mine — yet.
When I first went to WhiskyFest New York two years ago I was astounded at how Jewish it was. Growing up in Britain, there had been whisky at Kiddush, but it was rough generic stuff, not for the connoisseur. I never saw the bottles, but it was more Manischewitz than Mouton Rothschild. At the 2010 event I saw Jews of all stripes sipping some of the finest malt whiskies available in the world. I felt surprised, vindicated, happy.
Then, after last year’s event, the organizers from Whisky Advocate magazine (until last year Malt Advocate) announced their plan to capitalize on the size and strength of the demand and move from a Tuesday night onto a weekend — the last weekend in October, 2012. Not really a weekend, but from Friday night to Saturday night. AKA shabbat. AKA it’s now muktze, or inappropriate for traditionally observant Jews.
In the summer of 2010 kosher-observant whisky drinkers were surprised to hear that the OU had just certified three scotches from the LVMH Group (Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton) — Glenmorangie Original, Glenmorangie Astar and Ardbeg. These were three among many with no heksher that had long been enjoyed by minyans and at Jewish celebrations across the world.
There seems little halahic rationale for certification. By law, custom and practice scotch whisky must be produced solely from malt, barley and water with the intercession of some distiller’s yeast. No animals are harmed in the process, cultic practices are not invoked and adulteration of the spirit would be a shande to the distillery (though they might not use that word).
Ardbeg is on the island of Islay in the west of Scotland, but the Glenmorangie distillery is on the drier east coast. It’s perched above the swampy shore of Dornoch Firth just downhill from Tarlogie Springs from where it receives its pure, clear water. In my role as intrepid whisky correspondent for the Forward, I was happy to investigate what distinguishes an OU kosher malt from, well, a non-OU kosher malt by visiting the Tain distillery where the Glenmorangie whiskies are produced.
An account of his visit to the distillery will appear in the Forward soon but for those who are already thinking about stocking up for Purim here are my tasting notes, including some rarer whiskies below.
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