Whisky production has exploded globally over the last 10 years, with new distilleries coming online on an almost monthly basis. For more recent ones, it will still be many years until drinkers have access to actual whisky, but for Milk & Honey, Israel's first (but not only) whisky producer, their whisky is finally here... and by here, we don't mean metaphorically, we mean on our shelves, corks at the ready!
The plans for Milk & Honey (M&H) began in 2012, after a group of Israeli entrepreneurs and whisky enthusiasts, decided to establish Israel's first whisky distillery. (Since then a second, Golani Distillery, has been setup and begun production but is yet to release a whisky.) Located in the south of Tel Aviv, operations started 2014 with the first cask filled in 2015 and permanent production in place since early 2016. Throughout this time, work-in-progress whisky and some early limited releases have filtered through to various lucky individuals and events, but now, their first permanent expression is available.
Since its initial establishment, the founders employed the services of world renowned whisky consultant, Dr Jim Swan, a legend in the whisky industry with over 40 years experience who was instrumental in assisting numerous new whisky distilleries, both in Scotland (Kilchoman, Annandale, Lindores Abbey, Ncn'ean, etc.) and globally (Kavalan, Penderyn, Amrut, Cotswold). Dr Swan was involved with Milk & Honey from the very start, assisting in the distillery's setup and pot still design, cask selection and even yeast strains. Sadly, his involvement ended with his sudden passing in 2017.
The distillery is equipped with a one ton stainless steel mashtun, four stainless steal washbacks and two copper pot stills; a 9,000 litre wash still and a 3,500 litre spirit still. Although the distillery has capacity to produce up to 800,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, current production is only around 200,000 litres, enough to fill approximately 950 casks each year (significantly less compared to an average Scottish distillery).
Due to the fact that commercial Israeli barley is not suitable for whisky distillation, the distillery sources its barely from Britain. The standard malt being produced is unpeated, however every six months Tomer Goren, Head Distiller, does a two-week run of peated barley. The yeast comes from a company in Belgium, with fermentation times between 60 and 70 hours; a fairly typical duration for most malt production.
Like many "new world" whisky producers, climate is a significant factor. Tel Aviv's Mediterranean heat and humidity, with on average over 300 days of sunshine per year, helps with fast maturation. The downside, between 8 to 10% angel's share per year, resulting in significant evaporation through the wood while the whisky matures. Tomer has noted that with the climate: “Whiskies over three-to-four years old, which we already have, are well-matured. We will not reach more than five or six years of maturation.”
Although many single malt whiskies are considered kosher, depending on the types of casks used during maturation, Milk & Honey Classic is certified kosher on the label.
MILK & HONEY CLASSIC SINGLE MALT
The first commercial single malt release from M&H is titled Classic and is unpeated and matured in ex-bourbon and ex-red-wine STR casks (which stands for shaved, toasted, recharred)- a firm favourite and legacy of Dr Jim Swan. The whisky is non-chillfiltered and naturally coloured to preserve its flavour, and is bottled at 46%. The M&H Classic is R795. (Bottle size 750ml)
OFFICIAL TASTING NOTES
Nose: Gentle vanilla sweetness, followed by light oak and floral notes.
Palate: Light body, vanilla, caramel and honey sweetness, balanced by woody notes and light black pepper spiciness.
Finish: Short but delicate. The oak notes linger on the palate for a while with a nice light spiciness.