Milk & Honey, Israel’s first whiskey distillery, is distinctly Tel Aviv: The brainchild of three former startupers, it blends Israeli entrepreneurial spirit with an urban passion for good drinking. Based in an old industrial zone on the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, this company of dreamers is on the cusp of doing what was long thought impossible – creating the first ever Israeli whiskey.
Though it will take a few more years for the first real Tel Avivian single malt to come out of the specially imported bourbon barrels, this local still is already making waves. With some intriguing drinks with a distinctly local taste, like gin infused with local spices from the Levinsky Market and young “new make” whiskey, both currently available exclusively at their visiting center distillery, Milk & Honey has big plans. They also have an eye on the kosher whiskey market in Europe and North America.
Tel Aviv spirit
The company was established in 2012 by Gal Kalkshtein, Simon Fried and Amit Dror, and construction of their distillery began two years later, with the actual distillation beginning in 2015. Riding on the coattails of a brew-your-own-beer fad, these alcohol-enthusiasts are the first to try to make professional whiskey in Israel, and they have had no lack of obstacles to overcome.
Even before the first drop of liquid began the long process of turning into the golden drink, the group had to translate the science of whisky-making to the local conditions, adjusting equipment and the production processes to the famous local heat and humidity. The challenge piqued the interest of Dr. Jim Swan, an expert Welsh distiller, and he joined the team, bringing rich know-how on building distilleries in warmer climates.
The first problem was getting the gear they needed. Due to the lack of local suppliers, Milk & Honey had to specially order their equipment. With their “master distiller” helping to specify their needs, they imported a custom-built whisky pot still and vintage still, both made in line with the coppersmith traditions of Scotland. As well as ex-Bourbon casks, they also have a collection of new oak barrels and ex-wine barrels and they now mill, mash and ferment in-house.
What initially seemed like a problem was turned into an advantage for Milk & Honey: The high temperatures, humid climate and water, which is considered too hard for whiskey.
“Today’s technology allows us to achieve optimal water by using a laboratory in which reverse osmosis takes the minerals out of the water, and then other minerals are added that give us the desired result. In fact, if you want to obtain water like the water in Glenfiddich or any other distillery, that would be possible too,” their Israeli chief distiller, Tomer Gorden, told Israeli daily Haaretz last year.
Israel’s relatively hot climate, it turns out, can also have its benefits: it allows for quick maturation, up to twice as fast compared to Scotland. That means that their 3-year-old single malt whisky is on the bar with a 6- or even 8-year-old Scottish one. When coupled with Israel’s diverse climate, Milk & Honey claim that they can even experiment with creating whiskeys in regions where no whiskey has ever been made, like The Dead Sea. Will the best booze come from the lowest place on earth?
Kosher spirits from Holy Land
Much like the way they’ve turned the climate to their advantage, they’ve also turned the local market’s need for kosher alcohol to their benefit.
“Many people told us that… we’re producing whiskey for [secular] Tel Avivians, so why bother? But we decided that since this is a blue-and-white product, it should suit everyone and should be kosher,” they told Haaretz ahead of their launch.
Now, with the first products already on the shelves, and the first single malt whiskey expected by 2019, they say their kosher status makes them well poised to enter the European and North American Jewish markets and export their kosher spirits directly from the Holy Land.
Drop by for a drink
If you want to see them at work, their distillery doubles as a visitors center where you can try their goods and buy the first two products: Single Malt New Make – a crystal clear 50 percent proof drink that has not been matured – and Levantini Gin – a double-distilled barley malt infused with local spices selected by their Welsh master distiller. Both a true mesh of traditional craftsmanship soaked in local flavors, well worth a swig.
The visitors center is open to groups and individuals and includes a basic, hour-long tour. Though they warn, it sometimes goes on longer because they love having guests! During the tour, guests can learn about the distillation process, from grain to glass, and end with an expert-guided tasting of 3 spirits.
There’s also a tour of their cask room, suitable for small groups, and offering a taste of whiskey that is still undergoing its maturation process in 2 different casks. This is a great way to learn about the impact that wood and temperature have on the final product. Just don’t forget to call in advance and remember to leave the car at home, you won’t be driving after this tour.
Milk & Honey Distillery, 16 Hatehiya Street, Tel Aviv, Tel. +972-3-632-0491
Tuesday: 11:00 & 16:00
Thursday: 11:00 & 18:00