In Tractate Pesachim 107a, beer lovers can find an interesting discussion about the use of beer for kiddush or havdalah. “Rabbi Hisda asked Rabbi Huna: Is it permitted to recite kiddush over [date] beer? [Rabbi Huna replied] In as much as I asked Rav, and Rav asked Rabbi Hiyya, and Rabbi Hiyya asked Rabbi [Judah the Prince] about pirzuma (barley beer), ta’ainy (fig beer) and asne (a fruit beer) and he could not resolve it for him, can there be a [different] question about [date] beer?” Now it was assumed from this: kiddush may not be recited over it, however it is possible that we may recite havdalah over it.
This opinion is interesting in light of the story of the sage Amemar’s visits to Mar Yanuka and Mar Kashisha. During his first visit, he refused to make havdalah on beer and waited until the morning when wine could be obtained (fasting until then). The next year when faced with the same scenario, Amemar said: “‘If so, it [beer] is [considered] the wine of the country’ [so] he recited havdalah and ate a little.”
It appears, from the text, that the reason beer was believed unacceptable for kiddush was the bitterness of its flavor and the after-effects of the drink: “Levi sent to Rabbi [Judah the Prince] beer strained thirteenfold. On tasting it he found it well-flavored. Said he: ‘Over such as this it is fitting to recite kiddush and to utter all the psalms and praises in the world.’ At night it caused him pains. Said he: ‘Seeing that the beer causes us pain, shall it be used to praise God?’”
While it’s interesting to read what the sages thought about beer, the halacha is that while wine is prefered, beer may be used for the Shabbat lunch kiddush and for havdalah. Beer may not, however, replace wine on Friday night (in the absence of wine/grape juice, the kiddush blessing should be recited over the challah).
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