With the recent installation of the mash tun, the Milk and Honey Distillery is set to begin full production. Accordingly, the visitor center was completed and a two very promising “work in progress” casks were bottled. Happily, the cask chosen by Tomer Goren for bottling was cask 004, so I can keep following the development of my beloved cask 003 (reviewed here and here). Last night, some ‘friends of the distillery’ – whisky aficionados and bloggers – were invited to an evening at the distillery to inauaguate the newly completed visitor center and have an official tour and tasting, together with Master Distiller Tomer Goren and Dr. Jim Swan, the scientific adviser to the distillery. Dr. Swan came to Israel for the first runs of the full process of mashing and distillation.
The tour begins and ends in the beautiful visitor center:
Once in the distillery, the tour – which was led by distillery CEO Nir Gilat – starts at the water system. As you can imagine, Tel Aviv is quite different than what you would expect from a Scottish glen, and we don’t have springs, lochs and burns of sweet mountain water flowing near the distillery. What Milk and Honey does have is a water laboratory with a filtering system with reverse osmosis, that can basically create any composition of water you specify.
The highlight of the tour for me was the new mash tun. It was designed specifically by Dr. Jim Swan, Tomer Goren and the MGT corporation. Dr. Swan mentioned in his remarks that in general, mash tuns are not made specifically for whisky, and are more suitable for brewing beer. But since this mash tun was designed from the ground up, it has everything he wants in a whisky specific mash tun.
The mash tun has some special features, the main one is that the grist and the water are piped in simultaneously, and mix in the air, before splashing down together into the mash tun.
Additionally, to protect the fine stainless steel 7 mm filter on the bottom of the mash tun, all wort is goes through an underback (seen right off to the right of the tun). From the underback, the wash runs through a cooling system to the 10,5oo liter stainless steel fermentation tank (Israeli health regulations preclude use of wood), where the wash will ferment for an average of 72 hours.
From the washback, the wash runs, at 8% ABV, into the stills. The wash still – not yet in use – is a 9000 liter still, built around 1983, probably as an experimental design for a whisky still.
At the moment, both distillations are done in the 3500 liter Carl spirit still, built to the specifications made by Swan and Goren. The first distillation creates low wines at 25% and the spirit still produces new make at an average of 73%.
The still has a optional 8 plate column, that can be activated by bypassing the condenser. It can be used to make bourbon style whisky, gin or vodka. For white spirits, the full 8 plates are engaged, and a purity of 97% has been achieved in distillation. I tasted both the Levantine Gin and the Vodka produced by this still.
After filling the new make into barrels (at distillation strength), they’re rolled to the barrel foom, which is fully climate and humidity controlled. the room can hold 170 barrels racked two deep and four high. If a fifth level can fit, it might hold up to 220 barrels. Plans are to distill and fill these 170 casks within a year.
The vast majority of the barrels are standard American oak barrels, that previously held MGP bourbon, with some locally sourced red wine casks from Israeli wineries. This is also the place to note that all whisky produced at Milk and Honey is certified kosher and is under the supervision of the municipal kosher supervision of Tel Aviv. Practically, this means that you shouldn’t expect to see any sherry, port or other fortified wine maturation or finishes. Kosher wine casks are and will be used.
After the tour, we returned to the visitor center, for a tasting and a chat with Jim Swan and Tomer Goren.
We tasted the new make and the first two bottlings of experimental casks. I have already told you that the spirit shows a lot of promise, but Dr. Swan confirmed that the profile is just what they were aiming for, with a lot of fruitiness apparent in the new make, and well accentuated in the spirit matured in oak, even though this is only 6-8 months into the maturation process.
Milk and Honey, Cask 010, Aged 6 Months in a Virgin Oak 70 Liter Quarter Cask (51.5% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Gold, droplets remain and cling to the glass.
Nose: Floral with notes of roses, fruity, star anise, menthol and a hint of vanilla.
Palate: Still harsh on the palate, some piney cereal and wood with bits of cayenne pepper and bitter.
Linger: Bitter, peppery and somewhat drying.
Milk and Honey, Cask 004, Aged 8 Months in a Cabernet Red Wine Cask (53.2% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Light copper, nice necklace and some residual droplets.
Nose: Mellower than cask 10, floral (conjures up a bouquet of red flowers),hints of tropical fruit, cereal underlying, the wine works here, a dry sweetness on the nose – like a rose wine. Mint comes through after some time in the glass. A lot of water brings out candy and a lot of licorice.
Palate: Peppery, somewhat herbal, with the mint very prominent on the palate.
Linger: Very spicy with a lot of pepper, drying and with a long hint of the wine.
There will be some great stuff coming out of Milk and Honey. I’ll continue to follow up on cask 003 as it progresses. These two casks, as well as a gin (made with a very local composition of herbs) and the new make, are available for purchase at the distillery. If you do come to Tel Aviv, drop me a line, and I’d love to meet you for a dram at the visitor center.