Transforming Whiskey Production in the Middle East

Modeled on the extraordinary success of the craft beer movement—which has revolutionized the beer industry in the United States by emphasizing small-scale specialty production —the micro-distilling revolution has similarly reshaped the landscape of American whiskey production with its emphasis on local authenticity and character. A British-born Israeli and his sabra partner are teaming up to bring this phenomenon to Israel by becoming Israel’s first-ever artisan whiskey producer, the Milk and Honey Distillery.

“We intend to make a whiskey that can stand on its own two feet,” Simon Fried, one of the founders of Milk and Honey,” told JNS.org. “Not only to make a whiskey from Israel for the first time, but a good whiskey that will be respected around the world.”

Today, in a region bereft of alcohol production, Israel has seen a boom in its alcohol industry. Israeli wines have become world-renowned for their quality and taste, redefining what it means to be a kosher wine, while Israeli-produced beers such as Goldstar and Maccabee have become popular everyday drinks. Israel has also seen the craft beer phenomenon come to its shores with the opening of numerous brew pubs throughout the country.

As a result, Israel seems primed for the latest alcohol trend, micro-distilling. That’s where the Milk and Honey Distillery comes into play, seeking to grow the legacy of the “water of life” and connect with its Middle East roots. Despite that history, Milk and Honey’s Fried said that to be taken seriously, whiskey producers must look outside the Middle East and learn from the best in the world in places like Ireland, Scotland and the United States.

“I have experience in the Scottish whisky industry and have been in touch with Scottish whisky and Irish whiskey consultants to help to produce a proper whiskey,” Fried told JNS.org.

But despite tapping into Scottish and Irish know-how, Fried is determined to incorporate as much from Israel as he can, such as using Israeli and Jewish themes for branding and marketing, using as many Israeli ingredients as possible, and even taking advantage of Israel’s unique topography and climate.

Fried said that producing whiskey in warmer climates such as Israel’s might bring advantages.

 “The Indian-produced whiskey Amrut, which has won numerous awards for its single malts, produces its whiskey quicker while maintaining high quality because the warmer climate helps to speed the aging process,” he said.

Additionally, Fried said he might consider aging some of his barrels down by the Dead Sea—the lowest place in the world. 

While Israel is famous for its frustrating bureaucracy, Fried said it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a distillery running soon.

“There isn’t much red tape in Israel when it comes to producing whiskey,” he said. “Israel doesn’t have much of a history in alcohol and as a result doesn’t have a legacy of laws left over from prohibition, like in America, that stunted the growth of American craft beer and whiskey until recently.”

But Fried’s biggest challenge may be Israelis themselves. While beer and wine are very popular in the Jewish state, vodka is very popular within the country’s large Russian community, and Arabs consume moonshine-like Arak, there isn’t much of an appreciation for whiskey in Israel.

“There will be a lot of educating to do,” Fried said.

 With some strong investors already in place, however, Fried said he fully expects to begin whiskey production by the end of 2013 or early 2014.

 “We eventually plan on having a fully functioning distillery with a visitor’s center to educate and allow people to experience the whiskey culture,” he said.

 A special note to whiskey connoisseurs: The author, keeping in line with his Irish heritage, chooses to spell whiskey with an “e” rather than “whisky.”

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This article was originally published in the epaper, The Algemeiner. You can read the article in its entirety here.

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