Beyond the highlands

The climate is right for a new type of whiskey.

The first Whisky Live event (photo credit: EITAN LESSING)
The first Whisky Live event
(photo credit: EITAN LESSING)
For two days last week, Tel Aviv played host to the country’s first Whisky Live event – an exhibition that showcased over 300 different whiskeys and bourbons from around the globe.
An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people descended on the city’s Meirhoff Gallery for the event, which was produced by Whisky Magazine and featured offerings from distilleries in America, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan and, of course, Scotland.
Whisky Live takes place in 30 cities around the world each year. It was Tomer Goren, owner of Binyamina Wholesale, who brought it to Israel, and it took six months of planning to make the exhibition a success. Goren, who is unsure whether the event will return next year, told The Jerusalem Post that he had one goal when considering hosting the event.
“My main motivation was to bring whiskey culture to Israel,” he said. “We will lose money on the event, but it is good for the culture here.”
And whiskey culture is on the rise in Israel.
A country whose population once relied on cheaper alcohol is starting to broaden its horizons and enjoy higher-end spirits, especially whiskey. The drink is attracting more and more enthusiasts, keen to learn as much as possible about the nuances involved. This has led to the formation of whiskey clubs throughout the country, which, though commonplace in many countries, are a new phenomenon here.
Mark Berman, originally from London, is a co-founder of one such club. Berman and four friends started the Hoshaya Whisky Club six years ago, out of a shared passion for the spirit. Once a month, the five men get together to try a new bottle and share their impressions. The group even took a vacation together to Scotland to tour the distilleries there.
Berman is pleased to see this type of event finally taking place.
“It’s great seeing Israelis appreciating quality whiskey,” he says.
And it’s not just at the cash register that this appreciation is showing itself. The country is now, for the first time ever, gearing up to be a producer of single-malt whiskeys.
The Milk and Honey distillery is Israel’s first. Small craft distilleries have started to pop up all over the world in response to the surge in demand over the past few years, and Milk and Honey hopes to distinguish itself through a quality product that it will produce right here. The company recently finished a crowd-funding project, raising over $75,000, $10,000 more than the stated goal. It has also secured a permanent location in Tel Aviv, next to Bloomfield Stadium, with a second still on its way from Germany.
Although it has yet to produce any whiskey, the Milk and Honey booth had samples of other whiskeys available to give an idea of what we can expect.
The master distiller is Jim Swan of Scotland, an expert in the aging process – especially in warmer climates, which pose many challenges, since the aging occurs much faster than in colder regions such as Scotland. This effect leads to mature whiskeys in much less time, with the drawback being higher production costs due to evaporation.
To demonstrate this point, Milk and Honey cofounder Simon Fried was on hand to guide visitors through a range of whiskeys from Kavalan, Taiwan’s first distillery.
Swan also oversees Kavalan and, utilizing the East Asian country’s warm climates, has been able to produce truly amazing whiskeys at ages not possible in colder areas. They are hoping for the same effect in Israel and are scouting locations throughout the country to find the most suitable area for the aging process. The company expects to have its first malt for sale in four years.
Another new Israeli company was on hand as well: Cyclamen, producers of a whiskey liqueur. The company is located in Kiryat Tivon, the symbol of which – the cyclamen flower – lends its name to the company. Cyclamen was founded a year and a half ago by 24-year-old Eyal Moshe.
Moshe is self-taught, having learned the business through the Internet and books, and he has created a fantastic product. He brings in barley from Germany, processes it here, and then distills it twice. The spirit is aged in oak barrels with American oak chips, as well as a vanilla extract made on site. After aging for up to a year, the result is a slightly sweet, easy-drinking dessert-style liqueur. According to Noga Shahar, Moshe’s girlfriend, the product is currently for sale only in the North, but they do have plans to expand soon to other parts of the country.
With so many options on hand, the mood of last week’s event was light and fun. Guests were laughing and socializing and truly enjoying themselves. There were no strangers; everyone shared what they thought of what was currently in their glass, with whoever was standing nearby.
The comments about the event were positive, with most people excited about the format and impressed with the turnout.
Swan, who was on his first visit to Israel, was particularly impressed. When asked about the future of whiskey in Israel, he said, “Look at this show. It’s packed. I have been to Whisky Live events all over the world, and the first year is usually very slow.”
Still, one complaint heard throughout the night was about the cost of whiskey in the country. Prices here can be double that in the United States, making an already expensive hobby unattainable for many Israelis. This has resulted in the vast majority of the country’s whiskey sales taking place in duty-free shops.
A desire that everyone in attendance shared was that taxes would continue to drop on these products, making it easier for people to treat themselves to higher- end whiskeys.
Although it is still unclear whether the event will take place again next year, the general consensus is that it should. It gave people with similar interests a night to try new things and share their passion with other enthusiasts. Many saw it as a sign of Israel’s coming of age and were thrilled to be able to attend such an event in Tel Aviv.
Of course, you can’t please everyone.
“Our wives weren’t very happy,” joked Berman. “But they said, take 24 hours and enjoy yourself.”