Alcoholic production has been around in the Holy Land as far back as there have been people living on the land. Today, the range of wines and beer products produced there have won accolades globally.
Lately, however, another spirit has begun to pop up suddenly, thanks to Milk and Honey Distillery, Israel’s first whisky manufacturer, located in Tel Aviv.
Milk and Honey’s first three-year-old batch is about to be officially tapped, to appear in 150 locations across Israel, as well as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. And plans are in the works to bring the product to North America. The current output will be about a million bottles.
Sampling a few varieties of fresh-opened whisky was among the “super cool” moments of my recent trip to Israel (another one, in case you were wondering, was that I was staying at a newly-opened Tel Aviv boutique hotel called “Dave”. It was located on “Gordon Street.” I’m not making this up.)
Insofar as why the distillery was launched, the founders sought to piggyback on what appears to be a trend of people wanting to try certain drinks from places that are not typically known for making them.
“Whisky consumption is seeing a big shift happening all over the world now,” noted Milk and Honey CEO Eitan Attir. Even though for decades, four countries ruled the industry of whisky – Ireland, Scotland, United States, and Canada – that shift, as he calls it, is because customers have sought the uniqueness of new country drinks, made in unique ways.
“It’s what we call a New World whiskey. So, now you can find more and more countries that never had a history of whiskey, doing it,” said Attir.
Proof of that New World whisky popularity became evident even before the first ounce was available as an official product. In 2017, Milk and Honey filled 391 bottles of its initial three-year-old whisky single malt. (Head Distiller Tomer Goren created the batch in his workshop, and it was aged in the distillery.)
Bottles numbered 1 to 100 were sold at Whiskey Auctioneer, a whiskey auction website. More than 30,000 people bid on the bottles.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the “number one” bottle was won for US$3,000, and number two, about US$2,500. The rest were sold for about US$750 each. Stock sold out in three months. “That was a huge surprise, not only business-wise, but also the attention it got,” Attir said. Several media took notice: New York Times, Boston Herald, CNBC, and NBC, among others.
Fast forward a year to 2018, and their “Triple Cask” – a combination of ex-red wine, ex-bourbon and ex-Islay barreled whisky – recently won Best in Show and Second Place at Whiskey Life Tel Aviv. Its competitors were 15, 18, and 20 years-old top-notch beverages from many different familiar brands.
As an added plus, Israel’s hot climate allows for relatively quicker fermentation, up to two and a half times faster than Scotland, according to Milk and Honey. That means an Israeli three-year bottle might taste like a six-year bottle from the Highlands.
Though technically, they’re not just about whisky – they also produce gin and liquors.
The gin liquors are spiced and inspired by Israeli ingredients. The Levantine, for example, is spiced with zaatar, orange slices, lemon peels, black pepper, cinnamon, chamomile and lemon verbena. The Roots has typical Holy Land flavourings: almond, savoury, coriander, jasmine, tarragon, thyme and cardamom.
What with all of this deliciousness, that’s something to say “L’Chaim” too!