Israeli spirit enthusiasts are establishing the Milk & Honey Distillery – the first single-malt whiskey distillery in the Holy Land.
By Sarah Carnvek
In a warehouse near Ashdod Port, a 10,000-L wash still and a 3800-L spirit pot still are waiting to be moved to their new home: the first single-malt whiskey distillery in the Holy Land.
Six whiskey enthusiasts have good news for whiskey-lovers: a high-quality Israeli-made whiskey is on the way and should be ready by 2017.
The team behind the Milk & Honey Distillery come from diverse backgrounds including beer brewing, working for Scottish distilleries, food chemistry, IT systems, renewable energy and project management.
"We love whiskey so much and we think it’s a great way to project something different outwards from Israel," co-founder Simon Fried says. "I’d love to have an Israeli whiskey. And to have it be really good would be really exciting."
Taking its cue from Israel’s award-winning world-class wine and distinctive beer industry, these spirit enthusiasts want to put Israel on the whiskey-producing map.
"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," says Fried.
Simon Fried inspecting equipment for the future distillery
The team has achieved quite a lot so far. They’ve nearly finished kitting out the distillery building, which is in Jaffa right next to the Bloomfield stadium. They’ve got Dr. James Swan, one of the world’s finest master distillers, on board. They’ve purchased the copper stills and distillery equipment and invested nearly $1 million of their own funds.
And last year, they launched a crowd-sourcing campaign on Indiegogo to help them start the production of the first distillation run. Fried says they turned to crowd-sourcing because most investors won’t put money into something from which they won’t see returns for a long time. By the time the campaign ended, on December 29, 2013, they had raised 115% of their $65,000 goal.
"It’s not high-tech; it’s old tech. It takes a long time," says Fried. "We can’t speak to regular investors because [this is about] your love for whiskey, not for returns."
Anyone who donated at least $50 secured themselves a numbered and signed 750ml bottle of Milk & Honey’s cask-strength ‘Founder’s 1st Edition’ single-malt whiskey.
The Milk & Honey team is also planning on meeting another crowdfunding pledge: Students from schools will be invited to the distillery for a “Drink responsibly” tour which will include a serious educational message.
“We plan to have our first batches age in barrels that we are getting from Israeli wineries so that they get an extra Israeli character and flavor as well as making the most of access to kosher wine barrels. We also decided to keep the whisky kosher as we wanted to represent all of Israel with the product,” according to Fried.
"Because we’re whiskey geeks, we want to play it straight and narrow," Fried says. "Every whiskey tastes a bit different, so there will certainly be a unique something about the taste."
Fried says some people have even asked for Jerusalem Moonshine. But he says that may only happen in the future.
“It will be a signature single-malt whiskey – not peaty, but rich flavorful Speyside-style,” says Swan, an award-winning Scottish whiskey expert with a prize-winning track record in advising distilleries in hot climates. The ingredients used in producing the whiskey will be carefully selected and local, wherever possible.
Aging in Israel is faster, as the higher temperatures speed up the maturation process in the barrel.
"The higher temperature in Israel will speed up the maturation process in the barrels," the Milk & Honey team explains on their campaign page. "You can expect an Israeli four-year-old to be more like a Scottish 10-year-old. If you have had the good fortune to try Kavalan from Taiwan, or Amruth from India you will have experienced this effect before. Great whiskey made in warmer climates."
And while the golden drink won’t have typically Israeli zaatar (hyssop) or Hawaij spices added to its mix, it will still boast a unique tang.
“We plan to start with the single-malt whiskey, but we also hope to make bourbon-style whiskey and single-malt vodka one day,” says Fried, adding that the team would also love to make a "biblical gin using flavors from here."