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Thought for the Day: Why You Need to Know Halacha to Really Enjoy a Good Beer

I like a good beer.  Technically, it is a good ale that I like, but in halacha they are both שֵׁכָר  (in fact, Google translate dutifully translates that noun as "beer, ale").  I know that some people think that "good beer" is an oxymoron, but I respectfully disagree.  After all, when one does not have wine for religious ceremonies, beer is the next logical choice.  (Yes, I know חמר מדינה can technically be Diet Coke or orange juice, but let's get real.)  Moreover, the G"ra, as noted by the Mishna Brura, specifically used beer and not wine for the havdala service marking the conclusion of Pesach.  Basically beer is to wine as ארמית is to לשון הקודש.  Another great thing about beer is that is is all kosher... or so I thought.

A couple of weeks ago I received and email from the cRc informing me that one of my favorite brands of beer was now on the "Not Recommended" list.  Why?  חמץ שעבר עליו הפסח.  Apparently it had just come to light that the company is owned by Jews.  Jews cannot own חמץ over Pesach (no, really, they can't own it -- the Torah takes it away from them), so our Sages instituted a rule that if a Jew does not rid himself of all חמץ before Pesach, then that חמץ becomes forbidden to everyone forever.  It doesn't really matter what religion he follows, he could be Reform Jewish, Christian, or athiest; if his mother was Jewish or he converted according to הלכה, his חמץ is forbidden to all forever.

So when I saw the email, I was a bit distraught... especially since I had just bought a case of said beer.  My first thought was, "Hey!  This probably means any beer that one buys now (after Pesach) is a problem, but anything before that should be ok."  Here's a bit of advice: don't bet your soul on your first thought.  I decided to call.  Turns out, sigh... the company has been Jewish owned for years, and no one had thought to check that.

Then I had another thought -- this one motivated by both my ignorance and arrogance, but of which are nearly boundless.  I saw that my beer had been bottled in Feb, 2015.  So, I argued to the rav, it obviously had no חמץ שעבר עליו הפסח since they wouldn't have started the process much before Jan, 2015 at the earliest.  I have, after all, even brewed my own beer (three batches!), so I am obviously a bigger expert than the cRc rabbi whom I am addressing.  The rabbi was amazingly patient with me and offered some interesting insights into how these modern breweries -- especially microbreweries -- operate.  Still, he suggested, if I could get more information, there might still be hope.

After several email exchanges with the brewery (lots of "well... it's complicated" on their part), I finally got the information I needed -- the brewing process for the kind of beer I had (IPAs) was two to three week before bottling.  Awesome!  That, together with "ספק רבנן לקולא", seemed to permit this case of beer that I had already bought.  I even put some in the fridge last night.  Then I got another email from the cRc... these breweries sometimes buy malted barley (which is straight up חמץ) by the truck load; no telling how long they owned that before brewing.

So I am back to emailing the brewery for more information.  In the meantime, I've dealt with halachic issues ranging from how much you can trust the innocent testimony of a goy, to ברירה, to when you can rely on partial information... and more.  Regardless of whether I can ever drink that beer or not, one thing is certain: I've gotten more than my money's worth enjoyment out of that case of beer!

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