By now you’ve probably heard about M&H Distillery from Tel Aviv in Israel—short for Milk & Honey. They’ve only been around since 2014 and have just released their first widely available single malt whisky (which I review below), and yet they’ve been written about as if they’ve been making waves for decades. The attention they’ve managed to create for themselves is admirable.
That’s probably all because of their strategy though. From the beginning the plan was to go global. Where many distilleries focus on local—by choice or maybe simply because they have limited funds—M&H Distillery has a goal that reaches far beyond Israel. Might be for the best too, because while the Israeli whisky scene has grown in the last decade, it is still probably too small to support an operation like M&H.
Compared to some of their Scottish counterparts, they’re tiny. But their production of 170.000 liters of new make spirit per year is nothing to sneeze at. And with the current stills they could even go up to a maximum capacity of 700.000 liters—although M&H would need to add a few more fermentation vessels. At the moment a little over three quarters of their production is exported to foreign markets.
What probably stands out most about M&H Distillery is the climate in Tel Aviv. With temperatures ranging from 16 to 40 degrees Celsius and a humidity anywhere between 50 to 90 percent, conditions for distilling and ageing whisky are challenging. The angels’ share is roughly 9 percent, so long maturation is out of the question for M&H Distillery.
That’s also why their first ongoing release (there’ve been a few limited and single cask releases) is not even 4 years old. The global launch of their Classic Single Malt Whisky was two days ago in the Netherlands of all places. God knows why, but I’m not complaining, because it meant I could attend.
The Classic Single Malt Whisky has matured mostly in ex-bourbon casks (roughly 80 percent), a tiny amount of virgin oak casks (3 percent) and the rest of the spirit matured in STR casks, an innovation from famous whisky consultant Jim Swan. He was heavily involved at M&H Distillery, but passed away in 2017. His expertise on whisky production in warm climates (he was also a key figure at Kavalan in Taiwan) was highly valuable.
First launched in my home country, the M&H Distillery Classic Single Malt Whisky will also be exported to 10 other markets, including France, Belgium, Germany, the United States and Canada.
Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt Whisky (46%, OB, 2020)
Nose: Soft floral notes at first, enhanced by a subtle fruitiness (red apple, peach and nectarine) and delicate sweetness (beeswax and honey). There’s touches of oak shavings, but kept to a minimum. Taste: Medium bodied with spicy notes (nutmeg and cloves), a whiff of oak, some faint notes of orange peel and honey, and finally a touch of cough syrup. Lacks a bit of integration. Finish: Lingering spices and oak. Finally a whiff of apple. Short to medium in length.
There’s some oomph here that often lacks in the entry-level expressions of other distilleries, but it also misses just a touch of integration. The spices and oak tend to take the lead on the palate, leaving limited room for other elements to shine through.
When I talked to Head Distiller Tomer Goren at the launch of the Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt Whisky, he spoke about the difficulties of producing whisky in a warm climate. One obvious challenge is to ensure that the influence of the cask isn’t too extreme. He was very clear that they aren’t quite at the optimal point yet and still want to find a better balance between cask and spirit. If they succeed, I feel future M&H whisky could greatly improve on the solid foundation that’s clearly already here.
For now though, their Classic Single Malt Whisky is a landmark release towards which Milk & Honey Distillery has worked for years. Congrats!