Gold, with touches of blue and white

  (photo credit: PR Milk & Honey)
(photo credit: PR Milk & Honey)

When you pass the building near Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa, it is hard to believe that behind a metal door is an Israeli wonder: a kosher whisky distillery, which manages to keep the faith of the Scottish tradition, that adds original touches of Israeliness, which have earned it awards and international recognition.

Lede: "The story of the Dead Sea began as a marketing idea to age whisky in the lowest place in the world," says Chotiner, "We started there and saw that it was true. Every cask that goes down to the area has an identical cask here at the distillery, and we have seen that the area where it aged has a significant effect on the taste."

The truth is, I was debating. A few minutes after I opened the smoked Apex STR cask from the Milk & Honey Distillery, I knew that from my point of view, this was the seasonal highlight of the distillery's creative series. This is a unique series in which master distiller Tomer Goren – who received his degree in England and who has many years of experience in distilleries in Scotland – distills different types of whisky each season, aged in alternating casks, thus giving them innovative flavors, not all typical of the classic drink.

But then, just before choosing my favorite, I realized that I might be doing an injustice to the rest of the whisky from the M&H Classic and Elements series, as well as to the variety of equally good Apax bottles. Like the Apex Dead Sea, for example, aged in casks on the roof of Herods Hotel at the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world. We'll talk about that in a moment.

  (credit: PR Milk & Honey) (credit: PR Milk & Honey)

So as not to hurt the feelings of any bottle, it's worth starting the story from the beginning. In an unsexy area of ​​Tel Aviv-Yafo, inside a gray building that was once a bread bakery, lies a unique Israeli whisky distillery. Passers-by unfamiliar with the location would never imagine that not only are they creating genuine 'blue and white' whisky there, but one that brings us honor around the world. Almost like Gal Gadot. In fact, why almost?

High-tech and beer

Milk & Honey was founded as an idea in 2012 (distilling began in 2015, and the first whisky bottle was released in late 2019, just before the Corona), in the Israeli format that always succeeds: a group of veterans from the startup industry who deal with high-tech, numbers and technology, love to drink whisky and decide to open a distillery. Gal Kalkshtein, the owner and CEO of the distillery, who is also a successful startup head (who before the whisky chapter in his life used to make homemade beer for his friends), heads the group of entrepreneurs who have fulfilled the wet dream of every avid alcohol lover.

The concept in their minds was to create Israeli whisky (kosher, for the benefit of those for whom it was important) with touches of innovation and creativity, but to maintain the line of centuries-old Scottish production tradition. What does this actually mean? In the production plant near Bloomfield Stadium, you will find, for example, an innovative distillery pot still from Germany, and its Romanian companion, acquired from a second-hand factory sitting next to it. They both produce royal liquid that will be bottled in the new machine at the distillery.

Milk & Honey produces more than classic whisky. In fact, the Israeli public of the startup nation and all those overseas who know we are the startup nation warmly embrace the creativity and innovation and testify to the awards and praise received by the Israeli distillery, perhaps in the worst period in modern history - the Corona. The first series came out just moments before the world closed, but that did not stop the group that was determined to continue to initiate, produce and succeed.

The latest highlight that excites whisky lovers is the Dead Sea Apex series, which started as an experiment. Tal Chotiner, the distillery's VP of sales, tells me about various STR casks, red wine, bourbon, and more that were aged on the roof of the hotel in the lowest place in the world for a year and a half, and then for an additional year in Tel Aviv (or vice versa – you try to keep track after drinking so much whisky). "The story of the Dead Sea started as a marketing idea of ​​aging whisky in the lowest place in the world," says Chotiner. "We started there and saw that it was true. Every cask that goes down to the area has a twin here at the distillery, and we have seen that the area where it aged has a significant effect on the taste."

For those who are wondering, the casks in the Dead Sea do not contain a different spirit but the very same spirit. The taste of both, as I noticed in the double taste test of the old-fashioned version on the roof of the hotel and the version that was in the cask at the distillery, is quite good but is completely different from bottle to bottle.

The successful experiment at the Dead Sea (currently, it must be said, distributed only in a limited and in-demand edition) will lead to future expansion of different terroir versions of the whisky. The distillery already has casks at Beit Meir in the Jerusalem mountains, at Moshava Kinneret, and there are future thoughts of a desert location. There are at least four areas in Israel with a different terroir, taking advantage of the fact that in Israel, unlike the United States or Scotland, the travel distance from one place to another is less than two hours. A stranger will not understand this. But from wine to whisky, it seems to be part of the country's magic secret and the appeal that a blue and white product gets overseas as well.

The distillery aged whisky in casks that used to mature different local beers. this is a  cooperation with various local breweries that Will also be launched soon  There is no doubt that in a few months, things will be even more interesting.  

The taste test

In my opinion, the APEX series is the most creative thing at Milk & Honey, and it varies from season to season, next to the version aged at the Dead Sea. Another interesting bottle in the series is, for example, peated whisky Apex aged in Israeli fortified red wine casks, (port-style), carefully selected by the distillery staff. Single malt is rich in flavors with 55.3% alcohol.

  (credit: PR Milk & Honey) (credit: PR Milk & Honey)

The Pomegranate Apex - a bit like the Dead Sea - is also something unique to Israel. In fact, it is the first whisky in the world to be aged in a cask of pomegranate wine, providing touches of pomegranate, vanilla, roasted coffee and oak, and a rich taste of pomegranate seeds, dried fig and herbs with a bit of sourness.

As I mentioned, I fell in love with the peated Apex in STR casks - and from my perspective, this is a broad recommendation for all lovers of peated whisky. Basically what is special about this bottle is the aging in red wine casks . STS stands for shaving, toasting and re-charring, The STR method is an aging method developed by the late Dr. Jim Swan, who was the first professional consultant of Milk & Honey. It should be noted that the alcohol percentage in this series is higher. The STR, for example, contains 58.9% alcohol.

Before I finish, I do not want to leave out the Apex Sherry casks, for example. The whisky is aged in PX and Oloroso casks and has lush flavors that, to my taste, obviate the need for dessert after a meal. This whisky is 53.6% alcohol.

As mentioned, I do not want to neglect the other wonderful series - like the great Elements series, a single malt whisky aged in three types of casks (sherry, red wine, smoked). This series contains 46% alcohol. And, of course, same casks the distillery use for the M&H Classic whisky for those who prefer their drink in the most traditional way possible. The M&H Classic whisky is almost four years old, based on ex-bourbon casks and ex- red wine  STR casks, and contains 46% alcohol.

Since the distillery is in the most urban location possible, whisky lovers are welcome to visit (by prior arrangement), purchase items (they also produce a unique Levantine gin series), and taste and see with your own eyes how blue and white whisky is being made right under our noses. It's no wonder that blue and white are the colors of the Scottish flag.