A brief history of Milk & Honey, Israel’s first whisky distillery
From its biblical name origins to its first cask filled in 2015, we’re taking a dive into the story of Milk & Honey, which made history as Israel’s first whisky distillery.
There’s no tradition of whisky distilling in Israel, which gave Milk & Honey both a blessing in the form of a blank slate, and a challenge in getting the world to recognise it as a contender. Looking back, nobody needed to worry, as seven years after the idea first came into existence between a group of six whisky-lovers, it’s more than a well-established name in the industry. It looks like Milk & Honey even kick-started a distilling scene in Israel, as four other whisky distilleries have opened since, with more in the pipeline.
Taking its moniker from the biblical name for ancient Israel (the land of milk and honey), the distillery is housed in a former bakery in Tel Aviv. Despite Israel’s lack of regulations, the distillery decided to follow in Scotch whisky’s footsteps and give its whisky a minimum of three years of ageing. With over 300 days of sun each year, scorching temperatures of 40°C, and high levels of humidity – all leading to insanely high evaporation rates of around 10% each year – it’s unlikely the whisky could take much longer! If there was ever a whisky to show you that age really is just a number, it’s Milk & Honey. The distillery even released its Young Single Malt Aged Spirit at just six months old – though you wouldn’t know it from the colour and taste.
It’s a hostile environment to mature whisky in, for sure. Though, with the help of the late Dr. Jim Swan, the distillery has made the most of its climate. It’s a beast to be harnessed rather than feared, with the high temperatures accelerating the spirit’s interaction with the wood. It was Swan who pioneered STR casks (shaved, toasted and re-charred), which are used alongside ex-bourbon, and a small proportion of virgin oak casks in its Classic Single Malt. STR casks (which previously held red wine) are great for younger distilleries who want to get their first release out quickly, while still packing it full of flavour. The charring caramelises the wood, removing harsh tannins and imparting heaps of butterscotch and toffee. As well as the casks, Swan also chose the yeast, and helped design the pot still – his influence is peppered throughout the distillery.
The team is totally transparent about its whisky’s components, too. Yes, it’s an Israeli whisky, but the soil in Israel doesn’t produce distilling-quality barley (yet!), so barley is imported from England, while it also sources its yeast from Belgium. But where it can make the most of its local benefits, it does – from maturing some of its precious liquid by the Dead Sea (where the temperature can soar up to 50°C), to storing its whisky in ex-pomegranate wine casks from an Israeli winery!
It’s an understatement to say that I can’t wait to see what else comes from the distillery – let us know what you think of the single malt in your boxes this month!