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More new distilleries announced

By Dominic Roskrow

New distilleries are set to come on stream with projects in England, New Zealand, Israel and Argentina among others.

In England two or three new whisky distillery projects are underway, with the most interesting from a whisky drinker's point of view being The London Distillery Company which we have already written about here. The new distillery is owned by Darren Rook, who has a great deal of experience in drinks and a full time distiller has been appointed. The company has already launched a gin and at the time of going to press was still overcoming some bureaucratic issues over licensing.

Israel might not necessarily seem the most sensible place to launch a new distillery right now, but when I spoke to one of the main people behind the planned Milk and Honey distillery in Tel Aviv he was surprisingly non-plussed an unphased by the continued unrest.

"It has been quite interesting recently," he acknowledged. "But we have on the whole been a long way from the excitement."

Israel has many whisky enthusiasts, and the group behind the planned distillery think the timing is perfect. They are mainly whisky lovers themselves and they bring a range of practical skills to the project. Finances are in place, plans have been drawn up and the distillery equipment and the business is being formed with a view to building the distillery for late next year.

"Currently this is just the first phase and the team are already at work, selecting a place for the distillery, and setting up the business. in the meantime we have declared a competition to select the  logo of the whisky. Check out our Facebook page for details."

Milk and Honey distillery will be a fairly conventional malt whisky distillery but its owners promise a range of whiskies and they are looking at maturing spirit in different parts of Israel to take advantage of the country's unusual and different climatic conditions.

Meanwhile in New Zealand Matt and Rachael Thomson are set to start distilling in early 2013 having successfully launched their own whisky company using stock from the old Willowbank distillery. The couple picked up a sliver medal in The Wizards of Whisky World Whisky Awards for their 18 year old whisky and are now looking forward to creating a home produced NZ whisky once more. Read the interview with them in this issue.

Argentina is most associated with wine and so whisky production is something of a novelty. While there have been attempts to make pretty standard blended whisky in the past, now there are attempts to get two single malt whisky projects are underway. Both are relatively small, both have got their distilling equipment and both are in the Patagonia region of Argentina, which is famed for quality food and drink. But neither seems to be aware of the other and both claim to be Argentina's first commercial whisky making distillery.

The distilleries are called La Alazana and La Patagonia. Reading between the lines, so far only one of them is a viable business - La Alazana. I caught up with the people behind the project and it looks like they're well and truly up and running.

Pablo Tognetti and Nestor Serenelli set the distillery up in 20112 with a view to making easy ringing, fruity high quality single malt whisky. They have set up on a farm in the rural area known as Las Golondrinas and they are using fresh spring water from springs from the nearby Piltriuitron Mountain.

The equipment was designed by Pablo and produced locally, and it includes a 550 litre copper pot still. They believe that they can make a high class product suited to the Argentinian wine palate, expect the maturation to be relatively fast, and plan their first bottling in 2013, so it'll be young.

The other project is called La Patagonia and is a micro distillery. I have yet to speak to the person behind it but he blogs under the name El Gringo and he's clearly enthusiastic about it but after bringing a still in from Italy with plans to make a premium vodka last March, everything went quiet until November, when a worrying blog was posted stating that La Pagodia had run out of money and without investors the vodka project, let alone the whisky one, might not happen. This is what he wrote earlier in the year:

"When I arrived in Argentina eight years ago I sought in earnest to find a micro-brewery.  What I found was a place in El Bolson  in the province of Chubut just South of Bariloche named after the town it resided.  The first beers that I tried were similar to the fruity beers one might find in the States especially in the early days of micro-brewing.  Since that time there have been several 'artisinal' brewers making their way into bars and shops.

"Argentina seems to lag behind the world in many aspects of everyday life.  I suspect that much of this stems from the laid-back lifestyle.  Regardless of the reasoning, Patagonia is now home to several fine brewers .  The micro-brewery movement is just past its infancy in this small part of the world but seems to be following in the footsteps of it's predecessors in other countries.

"The reason I mention this is to point out that the micro-distillery movement which followed the micro-brewery movement in the U.S. has yet to begin in Argentina.  While I have heard of one distiller in the south I believe Patagonia Distillery is the first commercial craft-distillery to produce whisky in Patagonia."

In November the first spirit run took place, but a film of it posted on the internet was accompanied by a blog which is part appeal for financial help and part attempt to show how close to a viable business he is. But anyone familiar with the history of potential whisky distillers will know that the path is strewn with fallen distillers unable to meet the cash flow. Here is what he wrote.

"The funding or, in this case, lack of funding of the micro-distillery has been of primary interest in recent days. I have obtained most of the equipment needed. In fact, I have already made one run in honour of my countrymen to the North...I fashioned a superb corn whiskey.  Now, I am in the middle of making of what I think will be an excellent starting recipe to a premium vodka.

"Recently, I began exploring the legal requirements for licensing a distillery.  As with everything that involves government, it's not a simple process but it's not impossible either.  In fact, it's much less expensive than the good ol' USA without a doubt.  However, as with everything in life, expensive and inexpensive are largely viewed from your current financial situation and are relative to that situation.   Consequently, the process will have to wait until funding becomes available.

"I believe the market in Argentina is ripe for micro-distilleries as evidenced by their embracing of micro-breweries.  If the U.S. market is any indication, micro-distilleries will follow suit in short order.  Before Patagonia Distillery there was only one other distillery in Patagonia and they only have licence to sell in their town.  Recently, another distillery began ageing whisky only two hours drive from us.  Clearly, the movement is upon us!  If I can get product to market first and outsmart the other guys I truly believe this will be a multi million dollar entity.

"The reality, however, is that the venture and I are completely broke.  While I am extraordinarily passionate about the craft of making spirits it is very possible that I will be unable sustain the progress being made without significant outside investment.  Unfortunately, I am at the point where I am nearly unable to provide any of that.  The situation is serious enough that I am actually considering moving back to the United States in search of work.  It kills me to even entertain the idea but it may be my only option.  Aside from a true miracle…"