Now that the nine days have begun, I have begun to see questions popping up in online spaces asking about various alcoholic beverages to be consumed from Rosh Hodesh Av through the 8th day of the month of Av (The Nine Days). One thing that is clear is what Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) wrote in his book, the Set Table, “יש נוהגים שלא לאכול בשר ושלא לשתות יין בשבת זו ויש שמוסיפין מראש חדש עד התענית There are those that are accustomed neither to eat meat nor drink wine during the week in which Av 9th occurs. And there are those that add from Rosh Hodesh [Av] until the Fast (Av 9th)” (שו”ע או”ח תקנ”א:י). However, what about non-wine beverages?
One thing to keep in mind is that Rabbi Moses Isserles (1530-1572) commented on Rabbi Karo’s Set Table, “מותר לשתות כל שכר אפי’ של דבש שקורים מע”ד It is permissible to drink any alcoholic beverage, even of honey, which they call ‘mead'” (רמ”א לשו”ע תקנ”א:יא), so beer and mead are okay to drink during this period of time, but what about alcoholic beverages which include wine in them?
A key text that deals with this question is what Rabbi Ḥayyim Mordecai Margolioth (d. 1818) wrote in his book, Response Gates, commenting on Rabbi Karo’s reporting of the custom:
כתב באור נעלם שנשאל מבעל תורה וירא ה’ שיש לו איזה מיחוש שמזיק לו שתיית שכר ואין רשאי לשתות רק יין או יין מעורב עם מים באופן שנתבטל כח היין ואין בו אלא מעט מטעמו ולא ממשו אי רשאי לשתות כך מר”ח אב עד התענית
וכתב להתיר אף שאין במים ששה חלקים נגד היין ויש בו קצת טעם יין מכל מקום כל שנתערב יותר מכדי מזיגה עד שאין ראוי לברך עליו בפה”ג מותר לשתות באילו הימים וגם יין שרף מותר אף יי”ש העשוי משמרי יין כיון שיצא מגדר יין עד שאין מברכין עליו בפה”ג רק שהנ”ב ע”ש
Rabbi Isaac Zekel Etthausen (1687-1763) wrote in his book, Hidden Light that he had been asked by someone who was a Torah-knowledgeable and God-fearing person, who had some sort of condition whereby beer-drinking would cause him pain: would he be permitted to drink wine or wine diluted with water whereby the strength of the wine would be nullified and all that would remain would be a little bit of the flavor, and not actual wine, itself – would it be permitted to drink that from Rosh Hodesh Av up until the fast?
And Rabbi Etthausen wrote to permit drinking such a mixture, even if there were not even six parts of water in ratio against the wine, and a little bit of the wine flavor would still remain. Nevertheless, all that is mixed in a more than sufficient amount for mixing until it is not appropriate to bless “Blessed…is the Creator of the fruit of the vine” upon it is permitted to drink that during these days. And whiskey is also permitted; even brandy made from wine lees, since it has departed from the category of wine, as one no longer makes the blessing of “Blessed…is the Creator of the fruit of the vine” upon it, but simply “Blessed…by Whose word everything came into existence”. See there.
So, according to Rabbi Etthausen, whom Rabbi Margolioth quotes, as long as something no longer requires the blessing בורא פרי הגפן, then it is fit to drink during this time, including even brandy made from grapes. It would seem, also, that consuming cocktails containing vermouth would also be fit for consumption during this time. (And certainly beers aged in barrels or other containers which previously contained wine would also be fit for consumption during this time.)
This may be due to what Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (“Vilna Gaon”) (1720-1797) wrote on Rabbi Isserles’ comment above, “דטעם האיסור…משום ניסוך היין that the reason for this prohibition is on account of the wine libations [being stopped at the time of the destruction of the Sanctification House, (which is what we are commemorating during this time period)]” (ביאור הגר”א לשו”ע או”ח:יא).