From Tel Aviv, With Love

Imagine sipping on a fine single malt. As the fiery liquid makes its way down your throat, the drink is sure to evoke an image of the windy Scottish Highlands, or perhaps the emerald green vales of Ireland. But is this true? Think again.

How if we told you that this particular brew came from the biblical land of ‘milk and honey’, and is courtesy the first single malt distillery in Israel? Would you not be surprised? And, perhaps pleasantly so?

Aptly named ‘The Milk and Honey Whisky Distillery’, this Tel Aviv-based distiller builds on the fine culinary and drinking scene of Israel’s first city. Known for its markets – both indoors and out – and home to some of the finest bars and restaurants in the world, the region of Tel Aviv is more than an apt host for this unique ‘kosher’ venture by a group of Israeli whisky enthusiasts.

The story behind M&H – “Buying a cow when you want milk”

The Milk and Honey Distillery, fondly referred to by its initials ‘M&H’, was founded in 2012. A group of six high-tech entrepreneurs, from a diverse set of backgrounds that included beer brewing, food chemistry, working for Scottish distilleries, renewable energy, IT systems, and project management, came together for the venture. A shared passion for single malt drove them on to realize a vision which would lead to the creation of the first whisky distillery in the ‘Holy Land’.

The team studied the intricacies of producing best-in-class whisky for a couple of years, and eventually sought out the help of Dr James Swan, a noted master distiller. Swan, an expert on producing whisky in warm climes, recognized the exciting possibility that Israel, with its diverse climate, had to offer, and played a lead role in the setting up of the facility.

Co-founder Gal Kalkshtein, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of investment firm, GKI Group, summed up their motivation, “Founding the distillery was like buying a cow when you want milk.”

M&H in Operation – Overcoming the Challenges

The journey of M&H, and its artisanal approach to the art of whisky making, has been an eclectic mix of technology and tradition. And this started right from securing the best water source in a land known for its hard water. Since a good batch of whisky is about 60% dependent on the quality of the water used, this proved to be quite an uphill task. In its state-of-the-art laboratories, the team adopted sophisticated reverse osmosis processes, and then scientifically mineralized the water to ensure the quality and taste of their whisky. 

A higher average temperature in Israel, thought by some as being an impediment, was treated as a boon. The heat was leveraged to speed up the maturation process in the barrels, as a result of which a four-year-old Israeli whisky can now be expected to have the same level of maturity as a ten-year-old Scotch.

M&H also sources its mash and barley from top tier suppliers, all of which must go through a stringent quality check. Further, the oak barrels are acquired from some of the best global and local players, playing a key role in ensuring the flavour of the brew. Ageing is carefully managed to ensure that temperature and humidity play an optimal role in the maturity process. The process is further strengthened by the use of custom-made copper pot stills, and the specially manufactured mash tun and fermentation system that ensure that the mix of grain and water is nothing short of optimal.

In a first, all of M&H’s whisky is 100% certified kosher, and comes with a stamp of approval from the rabbinate. The company does not operate on the Sabbath or holidays, and only uses oak barrels deemed kosher, some of which are sourced from existing Israeli wineries – contributing significantly to the whisky's signature flavour.  

The Road Ahead

The first batch of single malt new make straight from the stills was unveiled at the Whisky Live Tel Aviv 2015. A clear distillate of grains, this was a white whisky that had not yet been matured in casks. Tasters found it to be super clean and malty, with a prominent taste of grains, and a finish that was slightly sweet yet unexpectedly soft. Further, a certain oiliness ensured that the distillate proved a splendid basis for creative cocktails.

M&H’s first full batch is expected to hit the markets in 2019, and already has the aficionados intrigued by its promise.