By Richard Thomas
One of the developments that has separated the current world whiskey boom from past growth times is that this spurt of international interest has spread not just the consumption, but the production of the stuff. Among the latest entrants to the world whiskey-making picture is Milk and Honey, the first whiskey distillery in Israel.
Milk and Honey is an example of how some pioneers inspire others. Rewind to 2012, when Simon Fried and Amit Dror were having a conversation about native drinks in a Tel Aviv bar. After discussing Israeli wine and beer, they turned to whiskey, which brought the chat to a screeching halt because there wasn’t any. Yet Sweden, India, and Taiwan had all gotten into the whiskey industry, so why not Israel too?
“Kavalan in particular inspired us given the warm climate in Taiwan,” said Fried. Dror had a background in brewing, and Fried had previously done some marketing work for The Macallan, so the pair wondered if they couldn’t start a distillery.
Next came Gal Kalkshtein, an investor from the hi-tech sector. Upon learning of what Fried and Dror were up to, Kalkshtein joined in to become the lead investor in the venture. They then recruited Dr. Jim Swan, the Pendernyn Master Distiller who also consulted on setting up Kavalan, to provide expert advice and oversee operations.
In a reverse from what most American micro-distillers experience, Milk and Honey had little difficulty with licensing and permits, since distillates are treated as just another food item under Israeli law. They are now operating with a second-hand 9,000-liter wash still and a 3,000-liter spirit still made by CARL.
Even so, Milk and Honey is still following a pattern well-established among craft distillers in America, namely starting with unaged products, such as white whiskey, gin, and rum. But that is just for the immediate future. “Our real goal is to make a great single-malt,” said Fried. They also intend to experiment with a corn-based, bourbon-style whiskey.
When it comes to that single malt, the distillery has interesting ideas on how to use Israel’s micro-climates to age their whiskey, with one climate in particular standing as unique: the Dead Sea. “The Dead Sea is something we are excited about, but managing the heat [and particularly] the dryness will be a challenge,” said Fried.