Is Israel becoming a whisky powerhouse?
Well, hardly, but the local scene is extremely interesting.
There are currently three active distilleries in Israel, two of which have been covered in this blog, and following Milk and Honey’s first three year whisky bottled in May, we have Golan Heights Distillery’s first three year old whisky being bottled in September. The distilleries are very different from one another, both in their location (big city Tel-Aviv versus rural Golan Heights – sort of like Glenkinchie vs. Dalwhinnie), in their basic approach to structuring a distillery (corporate structure vs. sole proprietorship) and their production goals (commercial versus craft). Both, however, bring a lot of enthusiasm and commitment to their work.
David Zibell is a Canadian expat living in Israel with a passion for whisky (as well as other distilled spirits). He started distilling in 2014, and now has two artisan stills, and a very serious relationship with the Golan Heights Winery, located right down the road from the distillery, which basically provides him with endless quality wine casks. His plans for the future include a core expression single malt, named Ashtaroth that will be aged over 36 months, as will his Golani Two Grain whisky. Additionally, The distillery is initiating a fascinating single cask program, in which a cask will be released every other months. David is doing something very creative with the casks, releasing part of each at cask strength and part of each at 46%. This way, anoraks can have their whisky at cask strength and everybody else can enjoy it at 46%, both are non chill filtered and with no coloring. This first release is the distillery’s first cask to reach 3 years of age, and harks back to the very first distillations David did.
The label has a crazy amount of information on it, far more than we’re used to getting in single cask bottlings. So we know that it was distilled from Concerto barley mashed with spring water from the Salukia spring and fermented for 60 hours, before being double distilled in a still with worm tub condensers. It was filled into a first fill American oak barrique (225 liters) which previously held Cabernet wine. The label is so detailed, that it actually provides the rate of angel share, which in this case is 21%. Given the weather in Israel, I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be a rather normal evaporation rate for the country.
Cask 1 yielded 40 bottles at natural cask strength of 61.4%, and a further 284 bottles at 46%, with a very specific numbering regime. Bottles numbered 1-100 are 46% and will sell at the distillery’s online store at an “own a piece of history” premium for prices ranging from $500 to $2500 for bottle number 1. Each of those bottles will have a 15ml sample bottle so collectors can get a taste without opening the bottle. Bottles 101-140 are the cask strength bottlings, which will retail for 450 Shekel (or about $125/€106). Bottles 141-324 will be sold at the distillery and in stores, with about 100 of the 46% bottles going to fulfill bottle obligations from the distillery’s Indiegogo croudfunding campaign. Store price for the 46% edition is 380 Shekel, or about $100.
I’ve written far too much, it’s time to get the glass wet!
Golan Heights Distillery Single Cask Edition, Cask 1, Distilled September 2014, Bottled September 2017 (61.4%, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Deep bronze. Sturdy necklace slowly releasing big droplets.
Nose: Sweet caramel pudding with a red fruit coolie. The wine imparts a sweetness to the nose with cinnamon and clove, and a layer of vanilla underneath it. Orange pound cake just out of the oven. After some time in the glass, milk chocolate mixes with the orange. With more time, the American oak vanilla gets more pronounced.
A few drops of water bring out the baking pound cake and more of the milk chocolate. After another 15 minutes or so in the glass a hint of the wine sourness comes to the nose, in a pleasant way.
Palate: Thick and mouth coating, spice washes over the tongue, notes of mint and pepper. Red fruit, clove and nutmeg shavings, with allspice. It’s dry on the palate, yet sweet. Hints of cedarwood and of the oak of the cask become pronounced with the addition of a little bit of water.
Linger: Tangy spicy sweetness on the tongue, with tangerines and a dry sweetness. Clovey spice rings the gullet. The mouth keeps watering from the very long linger, with a wave of spiciness washing over the tongue every so often.
The nose is the epitome of what a stunning wine cask can do to whisky, and would make a believer in wine cask maturation out of the greatest of skeptics. I have always been a fan of wine matured whisky, although I have experienced some expressions that should have never been bottled. But this one is truly stunning.
This is dessert in a glass on the nose, which does not feel young, despite being 36 months old. This is just one of the benefits of warm weather maturation, as long as the wood is fairly active. The palate is obviously a bit rough at 61.4%, and yet is definitely drinkable at that strength, with quite a bit of leeway with the water. I added the water in in small quantities (3-5 drops) over some time. This expression is not a quick sipper, rather a pensive glass to spend time with, letting it patiently open and divulge its secrets. If asked what I didn’t like about it (which David specifically asked that I point out, mind you!), it would be the minty note on the palate which was a bit less to my liking. But that’s truly a very small flaw in this otherwise single cask.
I’m looking forward to the next single cask edition, in about two months with great curiosity.
Official sample provided by Golan Heights Distillery.