Putting Israel on the whiskey-producing map. Image via Shutterstock. (www.shutterstock.com)
The year is 2014 and you’re in search of a traditional, fine, single-malt whiskey. Pick the bottle with the logo of a cow decked out in honey-bee colors. A look at the label and you’ll be delighted to find this Highlands-inspired flavorful whiskey comes from Israel and is kosher.
The Milk & Honey Distillery – Israel’s first single malt whiskey distillery – is not a fantasy. The Israeli spirit enthusiasts behind it are so serious about their traditional craft whiskey distillery that they’ve invested nearly $1 million of their own funds and ran a crowdsourcing campaign for another $65,000.
“We are dedicated to using traditional craft distilling techniques to make a high-quality whiskey in the Holy Land. Israeli whiskey that we can all be proud of,” according to the “Milk & Honey pact” on the team’s website.
They’ve got a seven-meter-tall copper 3,500-L spirit still now being handcrafted in Germany and another handmade 9,000-L wash still waiting to be used in a warehouse near Ashdod port.
And while the Israeli team is made up of whiskey enthusiasts, they made sure to hire a master distiller – world renowned James (Jim) Swan. Swan, who hails from Glasgow, has detailed knowledge about making the golden beverage and is the leading expert on whiskey production in warmer climates.
“It will be a signature single-malt whiskey – not peaty, but rich flavorful Speyside-style,” says Swan. The ingredients used in producing the whiskey will be carefully selected and mostly locally sourced.
A dream come true
Simon Fried, co-founder of Milk & Honey Distillery, was out drinking with five other whiskey devotees in 2012 when one of them threw out the idea that Israel should have its own whiskey. That proposal sparked grander plans and today the six-member team is putting final touches on blueprints for a distillery and visitors’ center near Mikhmoret, about 30 minutes north of Tel Aviv.
“We plan to start with the single-malt whiskey, but we also hope to make Bourbon-style whiskey and single-malt vodka one day,” Fried tells ISRAEL21c, noting that the whiskey will be kosher.
Fried says the traditional craft whiskey distillery will make use of local ingredients where possible, without going too far off on a tangent.
“We’re whiskey geeks; we want to play it straight and narrow,” he says.
Fried’s team members come from diverse backgrounds including beer brewing, working for Scottish distilleries, food chemistry, IT systems, renewable energy and project management.
Two things unite them: whiskey and the desire to show Israel in a positive light.
“We love whiskey so much and we think it’s a great way to project something different outwards from Israel,” says Fried. “We’ve seen how Israeli wine has done great things for Israel’s reputation on the world stage and we’d love our whiskey to achieve the same.”
Land of the first distillery
The Milk & Honey team dedicates part of their website to Mary the Jewess (aka Maria Prophetissima, Maria Prophetissa, Mary Prophetissa, Miriam the Prophetess). While the first fermentation and distillation traces back to Hellenistic Egypt, it seems that Mary — estimated to have lived between the first and third centuries of the Common Era — is considered the first non-fictitious alchemist in the Western world.
The Bible also alludes to King David, Elijah, Isaiah and Ezekiel as being expert alchemists.
In fact, legend holds that monks and soldiers traveling to the Holy Land as part of the Crusades learned the tradition of distilling in the Middle East. Production, of course, spread to Europe where the craft was honed.
Now, Fried and his cohorts want to prove that they can run a successful micro-distillery in whiskey’s birthplace.
“I’d love to have an Israeli whiskey that can stand on its own two feet,” says Fried. “And to have it be really good and respected around the world, that would be really exciting.”
For more information, see Milk & Honey Distillery Website.