(Delivered in Hebrew by Rav Shmuel Pinhasi Shelit”a of Jerusalem)
According to the Mishna, and as codified by the Rambam, all the mourning practices associated with the period before Tisha B’Ab apply only during the Se’uda Mafseket – the final meal before the fast on Ereb Tisha B’Ab. Strictly speaking, there are no restrictions regarding wine or meat before the Se’uda Mafseket. However, the accepted custom is to refrain from meat and wine from Rosh Hodesh Ab until after Tisha B’Ab, in order to commemorate the animal sacrifices and wine libations which we can no longer perform due to the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash. Although water was also offered upon the altar, and bread was placed on the Shulhan in the Mikdash, and thus we should refrain even from water and bread, the Rabbis who instituted this practice did not want to forbid these basic staples. And therefore the custom is to refrain specifically from meat and wine.
As this custom commemorates the sacrifices, it applies only to wine and not to other alcoholic beverages. It is thus permissible to drink beer, whiskey and liquor during the Nine Days, even though they bring joy and many people prefer them over wine, because these beverages were not poured on the altar.
An interesting question arises regarding cognac and arak which are produced from raisins or grape sediment, and are not actually wine. May one drink these beverages during the Nine Days, when we refrain from wine? This question might perhaps depend upon the debate among the Halachic authorities regarding cognac and arak that was handled by a non-Jew. Some authorities maintained that these beverages have the status of wine and thus become forbidden when they are handled by a non-Jew, whereas others rule that Halacha does not treat these beverages as wine. At first glance, this debate would also affect the issue of whether these beverages may be drunk during the Nine Days.
It would seem, however, that in truth one may drink these beverages during the Nine Days. We do not recite “Boreh Peri Ha’gefen” over cognac or arak, which would appear to indicate that as far as Halacha is concerned, these beverages are not viewed as wine. In fact, the Arabic word “arak” means “sweat.” Arak is merely the “sweat” of the grapes, and not the juice extracted from them. It stands to reason, then, that it is permissible during the Nine Days, as it is not considered wine. One who wishes to accept the stringency and refrain from these beverages during the Nine Days may do so, but strictly speaking, they are permissible.
Although the custom is not to eat meat during the Nine Days, meat may be eaten at a Se’udat Misva – a meal involving a Misva – such as a Siyum, Berit Mila, Bar Misva or Pidyon Ha’ben. Singing and playing music are also allowed at a Se’udat Misva. Although we do not listen to music from Shiba Assar Be’Tammuz through Tisha B’Ab, as we are mourning the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash, it is permissible to play music at a Se’udat Misva.
Summary: It is customary to refrain from meat and wine during the Nine Days, from Rosh Hodesh Ab through Tisha B’Ab. Beer, whiskey, liquor, cognac and arak are allowed. One may eat meat, drink wine and listen to music at a Se’udat Misva during this period.