By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Although wine is always to be preferred over all other drinks upon which to recite kiddush or havdalla, it is not always the only option. While it is true that the nighttime kiddush may only be recited upon wine, or in an emergency, upon bread, the daytime kiddush may be recited upon beer, scotch, and other liquor type drinks should one prefer their taste. There were, in fact, a number of our sages who did so. The halacha is more lenient with regards to the daytime kiddush as it is rabbinical in nature, while the Friday night kiddush is Biblical in nature.
The reason that a number of alternate beverages may be used for sacramental purposes is because they fall under the category of what is referred to as “chamar medina”, which translates as “a national drink”. Drinks which fall under the category of chamar medina are generally defined as distinctive beverages worthy of being served to guests. It must also be a beverage that one drinks simply to enjoy its taste and even when not thirsty. Among the more common drinks classified as chamar medina are: beer, whiskey, liquor, cognac, tea, coffee, and fruit juice. One may also use chamar medina for havdalla, as well as for the four cups of “wine” at the Pesach seder, when absolutely necessary. Under extenuating circumstances, there is also a view that for the daytime kiddush one may even use a beverage which does not truly qualify as a chamar medina.
While a superficial review of the laws of kiddush would lead one to conclude that one who recites kiddush upon whiskey and the like should be required to quickly drink a revi’it (approximately 4 oz.), just as is the case with wine, there are authorities who insist that this is not necessarily so. These authorities reason that such a relatively large quantity is not required when using whiskey for kiddush because it is simply not the normal manner or quantity in which one normally drinks such beverages. These highly alcoholic beverages are normally enjoyed 1-2 oz. at a time and served in what are known as “shot glasses”. Since this is the normal manner in which these drinks are consumed, one would be permitted to recite the Shabbat day kiddush upon them in this way. In fact, one who treats a shot of whiskey as if it were a kiddush-sized serving of wine may be required to recite a “borei nefashot” after drinking even this small amount.
Nevertheless, there are other authorities who only permit reciting kiddush upon whiskey type drinks on condition that one consumes the same quantity of the beverage as is customary with wine. According to this view, when making kiddush on whiskey, it would not be adequate to merely use a “shot glass”, but rather one must ensure that it is a glass that holds at least 4 oz of fluid. So too, one would be required to consume a minimum of a complete “cheekful” of the drink.
Some suggest that the practice of reciting kiddush over a shot of alcohol evolved due to the scarcity and expense of wine in certain parts of Europe. Since the situation has changed, many authorities assert that we should revert to the practice of making kiddush exclusively upon wine. Nevertheless, the custom of using chamar medina for kiddush is a strong one, not likely to ever disappear.
See here for R’ Gil’s perspective: https://www.torahmusings.com/2009/10/kiddush-on-liquor/
1 Mishna Berura 272:30, Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 272:13, Rema O.C. 182:2, Aruch Hashulchan 182:4, 272:14
2 O.C. 272:9;Rema. However, when even bread is unavailable one may use chamar medina for the Friday night kiddush, as well. Kaf Hachaim 272:50
3 Mishna Berura 272:27
4 Pesachim 107a
5 Mishna Berura 289:3
6 Igrot Moshe 2:75
7 Igrot Moshe 2:75. For more opinions on which drinks can be classified as chamar medina see: Magen Avraham 182:, 272:6, Halachot Ketanot 1:9, Rivevot Ephraim 7:103, Teshuvot V’hanhagot 4:77
8 O.C. 272:9, Be’er Heitev 296:7, Mishna Berura 296:12, Ohr L’tzion 2:20:19
9 Magen Avraham 272:6, Mishna Berura 296:12, Be’er Moshe 6:54
10 Minchat Yitzchak 10:22
11 Tzitz Eliezer 14:42
12 Aruch Hashulchan 272:14
13 O.C. 296:2
14 Mishna Berura 472:37
15 Nachalat Shiva 2:35
16 See Taz O.C. 190 & 210:1
17 Maharsham 1:175, Minchat Yitzchak 10:22
18 Har Tzvi O.C. 159
19 Mishna Berura 272:30
20 Mishna Berura 272:29
21 Shevet Halevi 5:32