Mar 282015

I want to start with a huge thanks to the Israeli Ministry of Finance. Yes, you heard me right!

Almost two years ago, Israel reformed its alcohol tax imposing a uniform per liter tax on all alcoholic beverages, cancelling a ‘luxury tax’ that made single malts prohibitively expensive in Israel. Overnight, whisky became accessible, and was made a viable category in stores. No longer is Israel the purview of entry level blended scotch whisky, and single malt brands are ‘making aliya’ (local jargon for coming to live in Israel) at an ever increasing pace.

Photo © Shai GIlboa

Empty Glencairn boxes have to go somewhere….
Photo © Shai GIlboa

Tomer Goren, the entrepreneurial whisky connoisseur and collector, proprietor of Sitonaut Binyamina, one of Israel’s leading liquor stores and Milk and Honey’s distiller, brought Whisky Live as an annual event to Tel Aviv, and with his very able management made it a really significant whisky event. This year, the event spanned three days, featured three master (or assistant master) distillers -Willie Tate from Jura, Robert Fleming from Tomintoul and Chris Fletcher from Jack Daniel – three global brand ambassadors – Macallen’s Patsy Christie, Bacardi’s Lomond Campbell and Jameson’s Aislinn O’Keeffe, and whisky writer Dominic Roskrow, all of whom gave masterclasses. Pretty impressive for a country that a mere two years ago had no real whisky market to speak of…

The absolutely hilarious Willie Tait speaking Diurach to the Israeli crowd Photo © Shai GIlboa

A witty Willie Tait speaking Diurach to the Israeli crowd (that elbow on the bottom right is mine)
Photo © Shai GIlboa

All but one of Israel’s major whisky importers took part (Shaked – importer of the Burn Stewart brands (Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Deanston), Glenfarclas and Arran – was noticeably absent), with Diageo (IBBLS in Israel) shifting their focus away from Johnny Walker onto The Singleton of Dufftown, Cardhu and Talisker. Pernod Ricard (imported by Tempo) focused more on Jameson, Glenlivet and Four Roses than on Chivas Regal (although not entirely), and HaKerem (importers of Wm. Grant and Sons and Suntory/Morrison Bowmore) put the focus on the Bowmore whiskys as opposed to Monkey Shoulder which was last year’s focus for them. Tomintoul and Teeling were the focus of Agat&D, who brought in Tomintoul’s master distiller. The other two major importers: Y&D (Jura, Dalmore, LVMH and Jim Beam) and Akkerman (Edrington, Bacardi and Jack Daniel’s) upgraded their already existing hard focus on malts and American Whiskey by bringing in brand ambassadors and master distillers and remained, for the second year, the linchpin of the show.

Israel’s own Milk and Honey Distillery had some of their own new make spirit to taste. While 60% of the flavor in whisky is the barrel, and I’m no expert on raw spirit or on maturation, the new make has a lot of flavor and tastes very much like the new make I’ve had from great distilleries like Macallan, Highland Park, Balvenie and Glenfarclas. Knowing the guys behind this enterprise and their access to Dr. Jim Swan’s contacts, I’m sure they’ll have some great wood to work with, so things look very promising indeed.

Another indicator, I think, is the caliber of whiskys that were available: From Jura’s 30 year old and 1984 Vintage, Dalmore 25, Macallan Fine Oak 21 and 25 and Talisker 30 (there was a 25, but it wasn’t opened), as well as the beautiful selection of some 40 independent bottlings and older OB in the VIP lounge. I think this, more than anything else in the show, is a significant indicator of the direction the Israeli market is taking, and therefore I think that this show is going to be an important stop on the circuit of annual shows for the industry. Richard Patterson and Dominic Roskrow have already confirmed their participation in next year’s show (it’s on a Tuesday-Thursday in late March 2016), and I’m sure other major players in the industry will follow suit.

Sample selection of the VIP lounge offerings Photo © Shai GIlboa

Sample selection of the VIP lounge offerings
Photo © Shai GIlboa

Of course, the human element of these events is paramount. Our Malt Mongers Israel Club was in almost full attendance on a daily basis, as were other whisky enthusiasts, and the interaction with both the guests from abroad and the local industry was highly engaging.

The masterclasses, I attended six of them, were excellent (don’t expect TWE Whisky Show caliber liquid in these masterclasses. Most of these masterclasses cost £5 to register, and gave great value for the money. The most expensive masterclass was the Macallan Tea Party – featuring the Fine Oak 18-21-25 and cost £16). From the ever innovative Patsy Christie to the utterly witty and hilarious Willie Tait, from the very methodical Chris Fletcher to the extremely knowledgeable and sometimes wacky Dom Roskrow there was a lot to learn and the delivery was fabulous.

Is he directing an aircraft to the gate? Dom being a human graph (Right being flavor and color, left being time in cask)... Photo © Shai GIlboa

Is he directing an aircraft to the gate? A whiteboard-less Dom being a human graph (Right being flavor and color, left being time in cask)…
Photo © Shai GIlboa

Some highlights from the various masterclasses include Dom’s bottom line on world whisky: “Don’t try to copy scotch whisky outside of Scotland, you’ll fail miserably. Be authentic, make local whisky, be different”. Willie Tait had us all chuckling with his wonderfully wry humor, and Patsy Christie brilliantly succeeded again in keeping a room full of whisky geeks engaged by using tea bags to demonstrate wood effect on maturation, then dumping a bunch of E-150a into one of them to show us the effect that has on whisky….and on her hand:

Photo © Shai GIlboa

Photo © Shai GIlboa

All in all, this was a show to remember, and I’m really waiting for Whisky Live Tel Aviv 2016 🙂

I want to express a huge thanks to Tomer Goren who made this whole thing happen, to Shai Gilboa for making his beautiful photographs available for use in my posts, to Chef Ofer Ben-Or for the refreshments in the VIP lounge, to all the guests who flew in from abroad and to Tomer, Ofer and Assaf Erel for the VIP lounge bottlings.



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