David Zibell emigrated from Canada to Israel with a vision to establish a distillery near the Golan Heights Winery, aptly naming it the Golan Heights Distillery. I met with David on a warm and muggy night in Tel Aviv, and had a chance to both hear his plans and taste the single malt new make, and a single malt and a malted rye spirit six months into the aging process in new oak barrels.
David has established a good working relationship with the Winery, and hopes to start using wine casks from the winery beginning in the next few still runs. In the mean time, I got a very preliminary look at what he’s preparing.
At this point, David is doing everything on his own, including the cooperage. He shaves about a half an inch off the staves, then chars the barrel. His method is less than traditional, and his mash is grain heavy and is more a wort (fermented and distilled with the grain) than a wash (hot water mixed with grist, with the wash drained away for fermentation without the actual grain). It is then distilled in a 500 liter still, averaging four distillations a week.
I started with the new make, cut down to 50%. The nose is very earthy and oily with a lot of grain, wood fire smoke and nuts. This new make is far less sweetness than the Scotch new makes I’ve had. The palate is overly toasted, almost burnt, with a lot of grain and peppery spice. The linger delivers spice on the throat. This is the basic character carried through the whisky. The new make still needs some development, as I found it a bit short the fruity/floral dimension, and I’m sure David will continue perfecting it as he goes along.
The whisky then goes into a cask, in the case of cask 01 this is a new oak that David charred, and after six months it’s presented at 63% ABV, is light bronze with a nose of wet earth, cooked buckwheat (kasha), pepper, vanilla and lavender. It’s much softer than the new make. On the palate it has faint honey, harsh green chili pepper, as spicy as any rye whiskey you know, with notes of cotton candy on the back of the dram. The linger is long and drying, with heat high up in the back of the throat and pepper on the tongue with notes of cereal.
I commented to David about how strong the cereal is throughout and he said that he’s aimed to get an earthy, cereal-y product, and while I’d probably aim for more fruity esters, he has definitely hit the notes he aimed for, which attests to his skill and his learning from Brian Davis, his mentor.
Next up was the Hermon Single Malt Rye, presented at 66% ABV and, once again, aged six months in a new oak cask. The rye was my favorite of the tasting, and is pale gold with thin legs. The nose is fascinating with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (seriously!), citrus, light honey, lemon, nutty (hence the peanut butter note). Water teases out some sourness. The palate sees honey before a hit of spice, pepper, lemon and the black herbal licorice candy you get in Germany. The linger leaves honey on the tongue, lots of spice in the mouth but almost none in the back of the throat.
While David had none of the corn mash distillate with him, my fellow blogger Yoav (of the excellent Whisky Gospel) had some of it left, so I tasted that too. It’s grain in the extreme, but not sweet. It obviously came out of the same still as the single malt and rye, and is sweet, but not in a corn way.
For interim income, he’s also making absinthe, which I tasted at the end of the evening. It was tasty, but I have very little knowledge of the drink to actually assess in comparative terms.
This is a space to watch, especially the rye whiskey, and I look forward to further updating you on the distillery’s progress.