milk and honey whisky milk and honey whisky This is the first whisky to be produced and bottled in Israel after being aged for three years in barrels, which meets the definition of whisky in Scotland and most countries around the globe. (Photo: Milk & Honey Distillery)

Israel's first whisky distillery selling off its first 100 bottles

Milk & Honey is releasing a special line of single-malt whisky after a 3-year aging period.

After three years of waiting and great fanfare, Milk & Honey Distillery is finally ready to unveil its product: Israel's first batch of single-malt whisky.

The Tel Aviv distillery, which opened in 2014, is celebrating the milestone by auctioning off 100 bottles of their special-edition whisky in a public auction beginning today, and selling almost 300 more bottles locally.

Paul and Ann Tuennerman toured Milk & Honey Distillery, Israel's first whisky distillery.Milk & Honey Distillery is Israel's first whisky distillery. (Photo: Paul Tuennerman)

"It is the harbinger of what is yet to come; special Israeli whisky that's mature and complex for its young age, thanks to aging in the warm Israeli climate," Milk & Honey's founders, Simon Fried and Amit Dror, said in a statement.

Fried and Dror were two friends who wanted to capitalize on the world's growing love affair with whisky. They were also inspired by the success of artisan beer and wine operations in the country.

So they developed a plan, but they realized they didn't have the funds to make it happen. By coincidence, Fried found an investor in entrepreneur Gal Kalkshtein, who also was interested in opening a distillery. Along with Kalkhstein and two other investors – Roi Licht and Na'ama Agmon – they founded Milk & Honey, its base of operations in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv.

The team at Milk & Honey Distillery. The factory is open for tours and tastings.The team at Milk & Honey Distillery. The factory is open for tours and tastings. (Photo: Milk & Honey Distillery)

In 2013, they launched an online fundraising campaign to raise $65,000 to pay for barley and quality barrels. They exceeded their goal by more than $10,000.

"At first we were thinking the distillery had to be by a big green hill, but soon realized it made no difference to the production process or quality of the whiskey," Fried told From The Grapevine in 2014, explaining why he chose to locate the distillery near Tel Aviv. "Traditionally, a distillery’s location was due to production constraints like needing to be close to raw materials, water, etc., and since those are non-issues, it made sense to be closer to the public."

At its core, whisky is basically beer painstakingly distilled into a type of ale. Malted barley is mashed up with hot water, creating a "wash"; after yeast is added, the substance ferments and ends up with a high alcohol content. It's then distilled twice to boil off as much alcohol as possible, and the remaining liquid is put into barrels to age.

"The climate here is actually a huge advantage, because if you are making whisky in Scotland, it ages slowly," Fried told us. "The more heat, the more vigorous and faster the aging process will be."

To ensure the quality of that process, Milk & Honey hired world-renowned master distiller Dr. Jim Swan in 2014. Unfortunately, Swan never got to see the project to fruition; he passed away in 2017 at the age of 75.

Jim SwanMaster distiller Jim Swan. (Photo: Milk & Honey Distillery)

The company plans to use local produce as much as possible – although for single-malt whisky, a specific type of barley must be imported.

barleyBarley is used to make flour, bread, beer, whisky and vodka. (Photo: Diyana Dimitrova/Shutterstock)

“The closed whisky-making world of the past is gone, and people are more interested in the products than where they are from,” Fried said, noting that places such as Taiwan, Sweden, Japan and India have succeeded in whisky production. “We want to be a great Israeli whisky, but we also want to be a great whisky."

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