The First Israeli Whisky DistilleryPicture a bar in Tel Aviv, it’s early 2012 and a group of friends are joking about starting a whisky distillery – in Israel. It may sound funny, but this is no joke, and since those first meetings, I have been part of a team working tirelessly to make it a reality. Our efforts to open the first Israeli distillery – Milk & Honey - are moving along, but we have reached a critical stage and we are looking to Israel supporters, whisky lovers, and anyone who loves a crazy idea to become part of the story.
This may sound like an incredible challenge, to make a product that competes with the traditional masters in Scotland or with America’s famous bourbons. But we see an opportunity to put Israel on the whisky map, and this is what has helped push us forward. When we set out to make the first Israeli whisky, we knew we were undertaking a challenge that no one had succeeded in before. We needed to find the right recipe to get the job done. Much like making a good whisky we had to be methodical and precise. So here is our recipe for building the first Israeli distillery from scratch:
1) Put Together An A-List Team
Our first step was to find a group of Israeli whisky fanatics for our team. The team ranges from passionate home-brewers, bar owners, whisky consultants, to a food and chemical engineer.
2) Find The Right Equipment, Equipment, Equipment!
If the secret to real-estate is location, location, location, then the secret to whisky is making sure to have the right equipment to get the job done. Fortunately, we were able to acquire two beautiful hand-made copper pot-stills. These stills are the real deal, weighing in at about four tons each and reaching heights of more than 20ft.
3) Recruit A World-Class Master Distiller
In order to ensure that the whisky meets the highest quality we hired a famous Master Distiller - Dr. Jim Swan, probably the world’s leading master distiller. His guidance will ensure that nothing is left to chance. Dr. Swan is an expert at aging whisky. He also happens to be particularly skilled at aging whisky in warmer climates such as Israel’s. Contrary to what you might expect, a warm climate is a good thing when aging whisky. The warmth speeds up the exchange with the wood. As a result the whisky matures more quickly. Such a whisky can be as mature as a Scottish 10-year-old after only three years!
4) Like Mana From Heaven – Get Special Ingredients From The “Holy Land”
To make a good single-malt whisky you need high quality grain, lots of pure water, expensive copper pot stills and hard-to-find barrels. It’s a big ask, but we’ve got all of this under control. The barley will be imported from a leading supplier, the Israeli water – with its special significance to people of faith around the world - will be carefully filtered and purified, the copper stills are already in place and the barrels have been sourced.
5. Keep It Completely Kosher
Now we have to work on making sure that the product is also strictly kosher. You might ask, why bother? Isn’t all whisky kosher? Well, not exactly. Those that keep strictly kosher are not able to enjoy any old whisky. Beyond the standard presence of a masgiach (inspector of the production process), there are other things required to keep a whisky strictly kosher. Any kosher distillery has to ensure that the barrels are kosher, which means they cannot ever have contained non-kosher wine. This means no sherry finish whisky, unless it was a kosher sherry barrel. Being an Israeli distillery, Milk & Honey has to do a few other things:
• The distillery has to sell all of its’ chametz (basically ingredients and all whisky) before Pesach every year.
• Where the ingredients are Israeli we have to observe regulations such as ‘shnat shmita’ (Shmita Year), when grain cannot be grown, the year during which Israeli agricultural land is allowed to rest.
• The distillery cannot operate during the Sabbath
The Jews, it turns out, are actually quite big drinkers, at least when it comes to Scotch. Apparently there are enough Jewish Scotch drinkers keeping kosher to make it a ‘thing’. There are lots of signs that bear testimony to the depth of Jewish passion for Scotch. The Single Cask Nation is a US company that sources kosher whiskies from un-supervised distilleries. Their whisky jewbilee events have been proving to be very popular. Perhaps most telling is that the last few years have seen many Scottish distilleries seeking out kosher status, such as Glenmorangie and Isle of Jura. There are very few that are universally accepted as kosher, however.
6) Ask The Tribe For Support
The Milk & Honey Distillery is now getting ready to make the first ever batch of Israeli single-malt kosher whisky. We want to give our community of supporters the opportunity to join us in making the very first limited batch of Israeli single-malt. We have created a crowdfunding campaign to purchase the ingredients for the initial run of our whisky. Anyone who is interested in helping to put Israel on the whisky map, or who would simply like to receive one of the very first bottles of Israeli whisky can donate to the campaign. Our dream is only a few years away. Hopefully, Jews all over the world will have a special, kosher, Israeli whisky on hand the next time they have something worth toasting. That’s definitely something worthy of a “L’Chaim.”
Simon Fried is one of the founders of the Milk & Honey Distillery.