It’s been a long time coming but the Milk and Honey distillery in Tel Aviv is open for business. I visited it recently
Tel Aviv is a surprise on any level.
I’m not really sure what I expected but it certainly wasn’t what I got. I was offered pork sausages within a couple of hours of arriving. And I found a city overflowing with energy and vitality, a liberal and friendly metropolis that comes alive at night and through its dozens of bars and restaurants, knows how to host a party.
The city almost certainly isn’t typical of Israel as a whole, and I’m not trying to portray the country in a rosier light than it deserves. But I didn’t travel to Jerusalem or the occupied West Bank or to extremely religious village communities which exist here. I went to Tel Aviv, where in some areas Arabs and Jews live peacefully side by side, and where religion swings from Orthodox to atheist.
One of those regions is Jaffa, a multicultural working district of the city where the two top football teams share a football stadium. And it’s here that Milk and Honey Distillery has started producing spirit.
What a great name – but one that is distinctly at odds with the site and district it occupies. It’s surrounded by industrial warehouses, scrap metal merchants, car dealers and large public car parks. It feels like an industrial suburb and certainly there are a distinct lack of bens, glens and gargling brooks.
Milk and Honey isn’t the prettiest distillery, then, but it is the real deal. It’s been a long time coming -I first wrote about it more than two and a half years ago, and the distillery’s website talks about starting distilling in late 2013 or early 2014.
No matter – it’s there now, and just like the distillery in Dublin, the stills are now running – just. And at the time of my visit the equipment was on site but not much else was ready – very much a work in progress.
But it’s no bit part operation. It occupies an industrial warehouse space and when it’s finished it will be a slick, sizeable and efficient distillery which has properly invested in and hasn’t cut corners.
We enter through the front door to what lis going to to be a reception area. Today, though, it is a mass of pipes, wiring and panels, a dusty work area. I’m told. though, that it’s only weeks away.
The equipment for fermenting and distilling is in place, however, and I’m shown how the process will work. There’s even storage space for maturation. As the new distillers talk about the project you can see that they are realising the dream. They exude pride, enthusiasm and just a touch of worry.
Not surprising really, because although there is one other major distillery producing in Israel, we’re in very unchartered territory. and the management team of six members are friends and enthusiasts who come from a large range of backgrounds and have limited experience in whisky production. But that enthusiasm counts for lots.
“Our skill set covers quality assurance, production, management, marketing and engineering,” they say. “We have rolled up our sleeves, stayed up late, opened our cheque books and activated our networks to keep things going.”
They faced two major issues, one self-imposed, the other inherited and unavoidable.
The first was the team’s desire to be environmentally friendly as possible. The other was how to go about making quality whisky in Israel’s hot climate.
The former has been dealt with through research and their knowledge of water management and fuel efficiency. The latter was to employ the services of distilling trouble shooter Dr Jim Swan, who is the world’s leading expert on producing whisky in hot climes, having successfully shaped malt distilleries in india, Taiwan and…er, Wales.
The plan is to produce traditional malt whisky at first, but they talk of the unique influence of the Israeli climate, about ‘local influences’, of ‘being creative’ and of even making different styles of whisky, such as a bourbon-style corn whisky.
Only time will tell, but watch this space. Milk and Honey is set to join the Premier League of new independent distilleries. Of that I have no doubt.
Our master distiller
Dr. James Swan is from Glasgow and probably the world’s finest Master Distiller. The deep, detailed knowledge Jim has gathered over the years about key topics such as maturation with oak wood products, cask management, flavor composition, distillation and blending is unrivalled. There is simply no-one else with his level of experience and understanding of the production of whiskey. Fortunately for us, Jim is the leading expert on whiskey production in warmer climates. He is working very closely with us.
We have purchased the highest quality hand-made copper whiskey stills. Both are traditional swan’s neck whisky pot stills. One is to be our wash still (9000L) and the other our spirit still (3500L).
What we will be making
The first whiskey we make will be a Speyside/Highland inspired single-malt. Our goal is to make a fruity, flavorful whiskey that is not too sweet. It’s the type of whiskey that enthusiasts and newcomers should both enjoy. The Israeli climate will have a unique influence upon the flavors of our whiskey. In the future we look forward to making other editions. We have already been asked to think about making a Holy Land Bourbon edition or even some quality Jerusalem Moonshine. The Milk & Honey Distillery will be a traditional