Milk and Honey Distillery in Tel-Aviv crosses a significant threshold with the release of one of its first experimental casks, aged 38 months (3 years and two months) in two casks: A virgin oak cask 2014-0001, filled on January 14th, 2014, and then into an ex bourbon cask last September. The cask was bottled on April 2nd, 2017, and yielded 391 bottles.
The threshold being, of course, the three year mark, allowing the product to be called “whisky”. But wait, SWA regulations do not apply to Israel, nor are there any other legal definitions of what may and may not be called “whisky”. Yet, the distillery is very strict about the use of the word whisky, and has released all previous casks as “young single malt” but not as “whisky”. Indeed, this is yet another indicator of the seriousness the distillery takes its craft and where it sees itself fitting into the whisky world, by voluntarily adhering to the Scottish regulations. This isn’t surprising given the very consistent commitment to quality and to “doing things right” that has been a cornerstone of the distillery working from the onset.
The distillery launched that first whisky at an event in Tel Aviv, and distillery CEO Eitan Attir gave a full press briefing on the product and the state of the venture. I bring you the main points and a tasting of the new whisky.
I’ve reviewed the production process in a previous post (see here), in which I told you about the distillery being ready for full production. Indeed, we’re at the point at which the distillery has two working fermentation tanks, each holding 10,500 liters, with the third one on the way. Distillery capacity now is 700 casks a year. Just to put that into perspective, we’re talking about 140,000 liters, which is basically Springbank’s yearly output.
Now that the distillery can work at full capacity, the distillery is moving into a round the clock production routine from Sunday to Thursday (with an optional half day on Friday, if needed). The production team now includes four full time employees – with a fifth recruitment on the way. The team is headed by Tomer Goren, the distillery’s brilliant master distiller, who worked with the late Jim Swan to perfect the distillation process. A steady line of core bottlings is expected in mid 2019.
In addition, the distillery is vamping up marketing with three steps:
- Appointment of Dana Baram, who was Carlsberg’s brand manager in Israel as VP Marketing.
- Appointment of Yuval Soffer, one of Israel’s leading mixologist, as brand ambassador.
- The distillery has started distribution of its products in Israel with HaKerem, one of Israel’s oldest alcoholic beverage distributors (importers of Wm. Grant and Sons, Suntory and Morrison Bowmore). At the launch, Ariel Epstine, HaKerem’s CEO, said that while David Stewart, OBE was in Israel, he helped HaKerem assess the Milk and Honey product, and it was his opinion that clinched HaKerem’s taking on the distribution.
Also on the marketing front, distillery bottles have been redesigned, and will now come in 700 ml bottles (as opposed to the old 500 ml. bottles). In addition to the First Single Malt Whisky, a new cask is being released in the Cask Series, a series of young cask releases showing the “work in progress”. The new release is cask 33, an ex bourbon cask which is a year old.
So how will this expression be sold?
The 391 numbered bottles will be distributed as follows: Bottles 1-100 will go on a special auction on Whisky Auctioneer opening July 7th. The other 291 bottles will be sold in Israel, about 130 of them at the distillery and the rest in specialist whisky stores by HaKerem.
Milk and Honey Israel’s First Single Malt Whisky, Experimental Series Single Cask 2014-0001, Yield 391 Bottles (46%, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Gold, slow long legs with residue.
Nose: Oaky, honey, malt, vanilla and toasted coconut shavings. A drop of water brings out some fruit maybe green apple.
Palate: Rich mouth feel, citrus peel, freshly ground pepper with some sweetness.
Linger: Dry, here’s where the virgin oak really shows itself, the pepper is long – chili like and with quite a bit of bitter citrus. The dryness remains for a long time on the inside of the cheeks.
Israel’s warm climate basically takes the whisky in casks to levels of development you won’t get in Scotland in double the time. Compound that with the late Jim Swan’s knack for getting distillates to go through the maturation process more rapidly in the first place, and this three year old is really ready to drink. This whisky had 2.5 years in a virgin oak cask, and was finished in an ex bourbon. I’d be curious to see the reverse, with the virgin oak finish after an ex bourbon maturation.
Milk and Honey are clearly on the path that Kavalan took (sans the sherry casks), and don’t be surprised to see a serious world following, 8-10 years down the road.
The writer was a guest at the official launch event in Tel Aviv.