Israel special part one – Whisky Live Tel Aviv
Whisky Live Israel’s organiser has a a poker face – almost impossible to read. If I had to guess, though, I’d say he was worrying.
Quite why, though, only he knows. Because the plain facts are that after three days of Whisky Live in Tel Aviv, he can reflect on an event which attracted thousands of people, was marred by no negativity or demonstrative signs of excess, and which almost certainly will provide a platform to take the event on to a bigger and better level next year.
Not that this was a small show – far from it. Now in its second year, the event saw a 50 per cent rise in attendance from about 4000 to 6000, and it attracted more stands. Many of the master classes were sold out.
The knowledge of whisky for most Israelis is still at an infancy stage, but those who do know what they’re talking about, really know what they’re talking about. There is a healthy blogging community here, a whisky society, and a whisky club. Two distilleries are up and running in the country, more are on the way, and most intriguing of all, some are distilling at home.More of that later.
The show itself has a good cross section of leading whisky brands, the majority from Scotland but with a smattering of bourbon, too. Moat brands are represented by the companies that import them, and there are only a handful of overseas representatives, including Jura’s Willie Tate. But the number will rise as the word gets out about the quality of both the show and the visitors, who, typically it seems for Tel Aviv, are vivacious, passionate and very keen to learn more about whisky. Next year there’s talk of Whyte & Mackay’s legendary live showman Richard Paterson putting in an appearance and that in itself is a serious step up for the show should it happen.
The sizeable presence of Diageo this year no doubt will help as well. The staff were mainly pouring The Singleton and Talisker ranges, including an absolute favourite of mine, Talisker 18 Year Old.
One thing absent – and it’s due to economics – is the presence of much independent whisky bottlings. One stand that did catch the attention, however, was Vom Fass, a German company which traditionally offers vintage wines as well as premium vinegars, oils and spirits all direct from the cask.
I tasted two of my favourite whiskies here, a 22 year old Bunnahabhain to die for, and a 21 year old malt from one of my favourite distilleries, Glen Garioch.
A good event, then, but made special by what was going on around the edges.
First there were the master classes of Patsy Christie, Macallan’s ambassador for the Middle East and a whirlwind force of nature who presents her brands in a totally irresistible and unique way. She’s irreverent, direct and extroverted and she has an amazing back story.
Originally from Canada, she was working in a bar when a group of men asked her to make them whisky cocktails. She did so to such great effect that one of the group returned to the bar to offer her a job with the company the group worked for – which just happened to be global drink distributors Maxxium. She got the Middle East post via a spell with Maxxium and Edrington in the United Kingdom and now lives in Dubai, which she says is “like living in the future.”
Then there are the unusual takes on whisky that people brought for me to try: a couple of very palatable Israeli Whisky Society whiskies which were brought over from Arran and then matured in Israel. And best of all, a sample made at a home distillery by Nimrod Rosenblatt.
Israeli blogger Gal Granov has written about the Rosenblatt brothers in World Whisky Review before, some three years ago. There are fermenting and distilling enthusiasts in the extreme, with Nimrod focusing more on the distilling side and his brother making a wide range of beer and wine.
He has distilled everything from star fruit, passion fruit, mulberries, peaches, port, sherry, hopped beer and even cinato style wine, prepared with desert herbs. The brothers have experimented with different yeasts and have made peated whisky using peat dug from the Hula Vlley in Northern Israel.
The whisky I try is called The Attic and was distilled in March 2011 and bottled in July 2014.
“To my knowledge it is the first Israeli single malt matured for more than three years,” says Nimrod. “It was distilled from a mash which included Maris Otter barley from the United Kingdom, along with beechwood-smoked malt from Germany.”
It was fermented for two weeks with beer yeasts to make it fruity and for one year it was in a cask that had contained rum also made by Nimrod.
Given its age, it is amazing. There are no young sappy notes at all, and it has a rich smooth orange taste, along with buttered corn, straw, toast, and a delightful and highly unusual strawberry mousse note.
Nimrod is promising further samples. I can’t wait.
All in all Whisky Live Tel Aviv was a triumph, but theres plenty more to come. I was proud to play a part in an evolving show that could rival London Tokyo, Capetown, Paris and Taipei at the top of the whisky show tree. I hope to be back again next year.