The pioneer of the Israeli whisky revolution, Tel Aviv’s Milk & Honey distillery (M&H distillery), reveals how it is breaking boundaries with a uniquely experimental approach.
So what’s the story behind M&H distillery?
M&H distillery was founded in 2012 by a group of friends: whisky-loving start-up entrepreneurs who decided to make their dream of a worldclass Israeli single malt come true. The whisky revolution is spreading across the world; there are distilleries opening everywhere, even Tanzania, so why not here? The market is growing, especially for single malts, and interest and greater understanding of the drink are on the rise.
We built the distillery in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural and culinary hub, the ‘non-stop city’ on the Mediterranean Sea. We joined forces with the late Dr Jim Swan, a world-renowned master distiller described as the ‘Einstein of whisky’, who has helped countless leading distilleries take their first steps. Jim’s expertise was distilling in hot climates, so his experience was very relevant to our needs. He guided us throughout the setup process – designing the mash tun, choosing the stills, sourcing the best ingredients and casks and formulating the recipe. We learned a lot from him and will cherish
How do you take a ‘craft’ approach to such a traditional process?
We follow the Scottish tradition in every aspect of the manufacturing. Our single malt is double distilled and aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. Alongside the Scottish tradition, we try to express our local uniqueness, which we see as an advantage.
Our whiskies are the result of our passion for innovation, meticulous cask selection and perfected by the hot and humid climate of vibrant Tel Aviv. Alongside our core range of ex-bourbon, ex-red wine and shaved, toasted and recharred casks, we constantly seek out new and interesting casks that have contained beverages from pomegranate wine, sherry, rum, Islay whisky, cognac and beyond.
What role does the Israeli climate play in production?
High temperatures and humidity characterise the Israeli climate during most of the year. This allows our whisky to mature relatively quicker, so that even when it is three or four years old, it tastes far more complex for its age, surprising the world’s leading experts.
Israel is blessed with four different climate zones, providing us with a fascinating playground to experiment with a variety of aging possibilities. We’re currently aging whisky in the Dead Sea (the lowest place on earth), where temperatures reach 50 °C and it is very dry. We are also experimenting in other geographical areas; but it’s too soon to say any more about them!
What’s next for M&H distillery?
In the next couple of months, we are launching our Elements whisky series. The first edition will be sherry cask: the first ever single malt matured in kosher sherry butts seasoned exclusively for our distillery. It will be aged in ex-bourbon casks, and both Oloroso and PX sherry butts, straight from Jerez in Spain. The result is a well-balanced sherry whisky with flavours of red fruits and chocolate, merging perfectly with sweet vanilla and woody bourbon notes.
In the autumn, we’re releasing an ex-bourbon matured version, finished in ex-Islay casks to produce a lightly peated whisky, with distinct notes of fresh tropical fruits and coastal salt. And our third edition will be a single malt matured in Israeli red wine casks.
Today, Israeli wineries employ the most modern wine making techniques, using both local and international grape varieties. Additionally, the hot Mediterranean terroir delivers a very special wine style that contributes a lot to our whisky casks – in fruity flavours, rich aromas, and a deep natural colour. Wineries and craft breweries in Israel are blooming, so now it is the time for whisky!