There was a time when Scotch came from Scotland, coal from Newcastle, and Jaffa oranges from Israel. These days Shanxi produces coal, Taiwan wins global awards for single malts, and you can buy Jaffa oranges from South Africa.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
The confusion of globalisation though, has clear upsides, including the fact that—as of this decade—you can also buy decent whisky from Israel. Eschewing temptingly kitsch epithets like “Holy Land Whisky” or “Chosen Spirits,” three notable distilleries—Yerushalmi (founded in 2017), Golani (2017), and Milk & Honey (2013) — have gone for craft quality and venerable traditions. (Pelter and Legends (pursuing an American style) also produce interesting spirits).
Milk & Honey, based in Tel Aviv, explicitly decided to follow the strict Scottish regulations for making single malt. As founder and CEO Gal Kalkshtein put it in this extended whisky rap session, why change a tried and trusted method, plus he did not want anyone saying that “the Jewish people were calling something whisky when it wasn’t whisky.”
With the counsel of the late great Jim Swan (the “Einstein of Whisky”), Milk & Honey installed Scottish-style stills and planned to mature several expressions. Though they put down barrels intended for different expressions in the five distinct climatic regions of Israel, their Classic Single Malt Whisky is matured in Tel Aviv. There it sits, near the visitor showroom, aging in ex-Bourbon barrels before a stay in Swan’s signature STR (scraped, toasted, re-charred) casks.
Milk & Honey is really putting faith in a golden product with a price point nearer $60 than $50 despite no age statement (but probably containing spirits from 3-6 years) and no track record.
Tasting it gives you an idea of where that faith comes from. It’s a satisfyingly substantial single malt. Spice notes accompany a clear vanilla streak, and there is a deep caramel on the nose. At 46% abv the first sip is a little punchier than the expression can really carry off. There’s a general rawness to the spirit but there is a hint of wood or savory that anchors the flavor. It’s a young, tasty expression with lots to enjoy.
In other words, while Classic has not quite found its balance, the foundations for a great whisky are here. It will take time to acquire the subtlety or the smoothness of famous Scottish single malt flagships, like the Macallan 12, the Glenmorangie 10, the Glenfiddich 12, or even the Balvenie Classic. But if you’d had the chance to try one of those august single malts in the first decade of their distilleries, you’d have a heck of a story to tell.