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MILK AND HONEY: Israel-The next whisky powerhouse?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan started a discussion

A few years ago, in a country not far away, some people decided to start a distillery in Israel. They wanted to create single malts with a distinctive Israeli character.

A few years later, The Milk and Honey distillery is poised for its first world-wide release of its single malt.

M and H is not the only distillery in Israel, and I sampled some malt from the Golan Heights distillery last week, but this distillery was the first in the country to produce a single malt.

Today I visited the distillery. We were booked for a regular tour, but I had emailed them (and mentioned that I was part of Connosr) in advance and they agreed to an extra tour of the cask tasting room.

I took a LOT of notes and a lot of pictures. Over the next little while I will try to post some comments and photos about what I saw and what I learned.

7 months ago

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19 replies

@fiddich1980
fiddich1980 replied

@Nozinan Did you take any pictures of their Stills? Is the Barley imported? What type of cask do they use? Did you try their red wine cask expression and if yes what were your impressions?

This was the only information I've found from Ruben Luyten at Whisky Tasting Notes

"This third version of the Young Single Malt is matured in three types of casks: Israeli red wine, bourbon and Islay casks to finish the mix of the other two. It was bottled June 2018 – the same recipe was also bottled in February 2018. The red wine and bourbon casks will also be used for the first core range expression due later this year.?"

7 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@fiddich1980

I believe I have answers to all of those questions and will provide as much detail as possible.....

7 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

The tour began with our guide, Aviv, giving us a history of the distillery.

The Milk and Honey distillery was conceived in 2012, and first word of it on Connosr was on this thread:

connosr.com/first-artisan-whisky-distiller…

Jim Swan was consulted due to his expertise in humid climate maturation. They started building in 2014. The distillery is located in Jaffa, not far from the beach, on the site of a former bakery.

The first spirit poured from the stills in 2015 and they opened their visitor’s centre in 2016. They have had 17 000 visitors up until now. In 2017 they bottled their first single malt (not yet a whisky).

In 2018 they had their first export (to Europe) and in 2019 released their Founder’s Edition. 2020 is the year they plan a world-wide release (including, she thinks, Ontario) of their 3 YO malt.

They use the Scottish whisky rules (3 years in oak, etc…). All of the wine/port-style/sherry casks are certified Kosher. This is a big change.

To understand this, I must digress. Aside from during Passover, whisky distillate and related spirits are considered Kosher. The issue is the casks. Bourbon (unfinished) is made in new casks so all bourbon (unfinished) is considered Kosher. Any whisky matured in virgin wood, rum or bourbon casks is Kosher.

However, the issue is less clear when it comes to wine. For wine to be Kosher it has to be produced according to very stringent rules (which I am not going into here). If you mature whisky in a barrel that held non-Kosher wine, then what? There is a concept that if something is diluted enough it can be ok. The London authority has declared all Scotch (even those from sherry casks) Kosher.

However, the distillery in Israel has to cater to a very wide variety of practice. They have taken the position that if the previous contents of the cask will affect the final product, then the substance has to be Kosher for the whisky to be Kosher. Surprisingly, as a secular Jew, I agree with the logic they use. So all the wine casks used by distillery are Kosher, and usually sourced from wineries in the country (but they have sourced Kosher sherry casks from Spain.

In addition, there is no caramel colour added to any of their spirits. Their whiskies are bottled at 46% or higher, and are not chill-filtered.

They use Tel Aviv water that is further purified using reverse-osmosis.

7 months ago 3Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

We began our tour at the water treatment facility then moved to the grain mill. The distillery buys its malted barley from a British producer, Muntons. Although they have experimented with peated barley, they do not regularly use it.

They use a Scottish grain mill. It mills 32 tonnes of barley per month, 1 tonne at a time, and each run takes about 1.5h. A conveyor takes the grist to the mash tun.

7 months ago 4Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

The mash tun is made in Israeli to the distillery’s specifications. It has a capacity for 6000 litres. The mash steeps for 3 hours. On the right there is a balancing tank to monitor pressures and for quality control.

After steeping, the wort is cooled to 17-24 degrees (Celsius). The leftover spent grain goes to farmers to use as feed.

7 months ago 4Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

Fermentation occurs over 48 h in Israeli-made tanks that have double jackets. This is so that the wash can be kept below 33ºC. The tanks are water-cooled if they get too hot. 7 Kg of yeast from the Belgian company Fermentis ensure that the ABV gets to 6-7%.

7 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

The distillery has 2 large stills - a wash still and a spirit still. Interestingly, lyne-arms are much narrower than the ones I’ve seen on Scottish stills. The heart is 73%. The tails are added to the next spirit run with the next low wines, in a similar way that Springbank does it. They get 300L of distillate per still run (from 1 tonne of barley).

7 months ago 1Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

There is no spirit safe. It is an open system and they manually check the quality of the spirit.

7 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

Aviv was kind enough to show us bottles of the Head, Heart and Tail of a still run. She assured me that no colouring was added to the bottles. I never imagined the poisonous stuff could be such a beautiful shade of blue.

7 months ago 1Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

Aviv also showed us the Gin still. This is apparently a unique still. It was manufactured in Germany. It holds 200L of spirit which has been infused with juniper berries and 7 botanicals. Later on, at a tasting, we were asked to pick out what they were. The citrus was quite obvious, there were oranges and lemon peels. Also black pepper, chamomile, cinnamon, Louisa (lemon verbena), and, in what may be a first for gin, Za’atar. Za’atar in gin? As Vizzini would have said, “Inconceivable!”

7 months ago 2Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

Most of the casks are ex-bourbon casks. Although it is not yet released, they have sourced KOSHER sherry casks and will have the first malt whisky fully matured in these casks. They use some casks that have contained red and white Kosher wines. They have some ex-Islay Scotch casks as well. Aviv said that one innovation they use (I’m not convinced that this is unique to this distillery) is that they shave, toast and re-char some casks (STR). For finishing they use port-style and sherry casks.

The casks are distributed to many sites for maturation, to experiment with different climates. Although she did not list all the places, in addition to the 2 maturation rooms I saw at the distillery, another location is at the Dead Sea. One can only imagine what they expect to get from using that site. The water is the saltiest on earth, so maybe a coastal maturation (Tel Aviv is also coastal), but maybe the fact that it is the lowest land location in the world, and maybe the increased air pressure will have some effect.

She said that in general the Angel’s Share is 6-12% per year, which may explain why this is likely going to be a hard to get and pricy whisky. The spirit enters the casks at 63% (it is diluted) and the cask strength of the mature spirit has been between 50-65%. This intrigued me, as it suggests that some casks lose water selectively and others lose alcohol. She explained that in general the casks on the higher racks see the ABV go up, and and the lower ones see it go down.

6 months ago 3Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

Then we got down to the tasting!

First we tasted New-Make bottled at 50%. The nose was fruity with a slight funkiness. It smelled malty. On the palate it was sweet and tasty. Probably the best-tasting new-make I’ve tried (I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of new-makes I have tried). Water seemed to make it more complex.

The second sample was the 3 year old whisky that is being released this year. It was bottled at 46%. It is a blend of ex-bourbon casks and ex-red wine (STR) casks. Very fruity on the nose. The palate was more complex than I would expect from a three year old whisky and very nice. With water it had a peppery and sweet long finish. While I would prefer this at CS, I would certainly buy it (if affordable in Ontario), and I hope it does come to the LCBO.

Then we tried the gin, both un-aged and aged in an ex-red wine barrel. Both were good, and I’m not a gin drinker. The citrus really came through here. The aged gin was phenomenal. Very complex. I would call this a whisky-drinker’s gin.

6 months ago 3Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

Then the fun really started. Aviv waited for the others to finish tasting and leave (I’m not sure if they bought anything). Then she took me and my friend into the cask tasting room where a number of casks were available (there is a special tour one can book but it wasn’t available when I was).

I was given the choice of a number of casks, including one in an ex-Islay cask. I gave this one a pass because the distillery cask that I was to bottle had an ex-Islay finish.

The first malt that I tried was a 2 year old from a STR cask. It was delicious (no time to think of or take notes sadly). The second came from a fortified wine cask, and though they do not use a lot of peated barley, some of the malt from this still run had been peated. It was also quite good.

6 months ago 3Who liked this?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

Finally, the distillery cask.

This was matured for 3.5 years, first in ex-bourbon casks, then finished in an ex-Islay cask. I don’t remember if Aviv told me which Islay distillery it was. It is currently at 56.5% ABV. I got to taste it at their tasting bar first, which convinced me that I definitely wanted to bring some of this home. I don’t remember exactly what I smelled and tasted but I’ll post a link to my review on this thread once I do the review, some time in the next 1-2 months, I hope.

6 months ago 3Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

There are rules about how much alcohol you can bring back into Canada. I tend to try to follow those rules. Had I been travelling alone I might have been tempted to go over my limit, and face the extra delays if they decided to make me pay duties. But with a wife and children with me, and after an 11 hour flight, there was no way I was going to risk that.

In an ideal world I would have brought back some new-make, some of the standard 3 year old (but it wasn’t released for sale yet), both types of gin and some of the distillery bottling.

In order to work within the rules, I chose a second distillery bottle, leaving behind the newmake (which I could get in the future and it would probably taste the same), filling bottles number 179 and 180 from the cask (this is recorded for posterity in their register). I also bought three 200 cc bottles of the aged gin. I have specific plans for each bottle. This brought my total to 1100 cc and my wife’s to 900 cc. Had they had other expressions available in the smaller bottles we would have got those too.

I’m looking forward to once again tasting this gin and this whisky, and to sharing it with friends. You know who you are.

6 months ago 4Who liked this?

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@Victor
Victor replied

@Nozinan thank you very much for a very impressive set of posts and pics.

6 months ago 1Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

@Nozinan It has been really interesting following you along on this thread. Look forward to your reviews when you have time. I wonder if we will ever see it here, or whether it will be kept for domestic consumption.

6 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@BlueNote If you're talking about the bottles I brought home, some of the gin and one of the malts will be shared as widely as possible, and I can try to include other provinces in that.

If you're talking about the distillery, I was told 2020 is the year of world-wide release of a 3 year old expression bottled at 46%, no added colour, no chill filtration. In terms of Canada, Aviv mentioned Ontario as a possible destination.

6 months ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

@Nozinan Yes, I was talking about the distillery and wondering if our local monopoly will be bringing any of their products in. If it's coming to Ontario in the next year or so I can have my nephew bring some out on one of his visits.

6 months ago 0

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@fiddich1980@OdysseusUnbound@BlueNote@Victor@paddockjudge

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