It’s always a surprise to receive messages whether via the website here or one of my other social media outlets. Recently these have been thanks for keeping whisky entertaining via Whisky Rover and my honesty in a sea of blinkered sources. I find these messages somewhat reassuring and humbling. A validation if you like, that what I do here has substance and oddly is noticed now and again.
Whisky Rover is always about my journey through whisky and my discoveries and adventures. The fact that you tune in now and again is a bonus. It has enabled me to receive the odd offer as well which comes as a surprise as I’ve never sought PR contact or stroked the hand that feeds so many. One of these messages arrived recently via the Golan Heights distillery based in Israel and whether I’d like to try some of their produce? It was frankly a very straightforward decision to try whiskies from a country I know from experience has a passionate fan base for whisky. Recently I reviewed a Tormore bottled especially for the Whisky Live event in Tel Aviv that set a high benchmark so now to head back and actually taste local produce is a welcome opportunity.
Golan Heights distillery is a recent arrival on the distilling scene and like so many brethren in Scotland, was founded in 2014, the current best resource for the distillery is via their Facebook page. My geography of Israel is very limited but the distillery is situated in the northern area of the country. A historical region that dates back to an ancient time of the Kings of Israel and beyond, today’s border splits Golan Heights with Syria where it has been the source of local disputes between these 2 countries. It seems an interesting site for a distillery and bringing whisky to life using the natural resources of Israel.
The concept and ambition for the Golan Heights Distillery comes from David Zibell, formerly a French Canadian real estate professional who decided to follow his passion for distilling to Israel. Upon visiting the region, he felt that the resources it offered including the abundance and quality of it numerous spring waters would make a perfect environment for whisky. The initial plan was to distil a trio of whiskies assisted by other spirits (absinthe, arak and gin) to provide revenue prior to the 3-year minimum required to label its own spirit as whisky. These took the form of a rye whiskey, a single malt whisky and a corn mash whiskey. Part of the plan is also to utilise local wine casks from the region although the samples we have here come via the more commonly seen ex-American oak casks. David is certainly a very busy many given he is the owner, distiller and founder of this what can only be described as a craft distillery.
The temperatures in Israel are needless to say significantly higher than those seen across Scotland. Therefore, what necessarily is a young whisky on paper might in maturation terms be considerably older due to those pesky angels taking their share. It’ll be interesting to see where Israel stacks up when considering the hot climates of Australia, India and Taiwan. So without further ado lets line up this trio and see what they have been distilling in Golan Heights.
Golan Heights Gin
Bottled at 45% strength, this gin consists of juniper, coriander, angelica, cassia, cardamom, myrtle, black pepper, lavender and citrus medica.
Nose: it’s the citrus that grabs your attention initially before a calmness descends across this gin. Then more sweetness, almost confectionary-like sherbet with the darker spices taking back the reigns over the juniper and coriander. Lavender is a divisive fellow and whilst it’s in the mix here thankfully it’s wisely a delicately added ingredient.
Taste: this is very interesting from my experience of gin as it’s not forceful and screaming for attention. Rather than being the Boris Johnson of gin, it’s a content backbencher. Very refreshing and the elements have a real natural vibrancy as opposed to some of the artificial essences that can unravel with some gins. The elements here almost combine to create a sweet black liquorice experience with just enough balance.
Overall: don’t worry this isn’t going to turn into a gin website despite the obvious potential of hits and popularity (2 elements I rarely focus on), but this gin much like those I’ve tasted from the Dornoch distillery, has an air of authenticity about it. It is surprisingly tasty and aromatic but anyone else out there reading this please don’t see this as a green light to start offering me gin.
Golani Black wheat & malt barley 2 year old
From a newly charred American oak barrel at 63.4% volume
Nose: the appeal of juicy apples dipped in caramel that rotates into marzipan and a peanut brittle. There’s a floral undercurrent amidst the obvious vanilla, with the obvious sense that you’d never guess this was just 2-years-old. Although it’s a newly charred cask this doesn’t come through as evidently upon nosing.
Taste: an obvious vanilla cream and the strength carries through until the finish. Yet a remarkable assortment of apricots, more caramelised apples and nougat. Traces of honey and a chocolate brownie on the finish with more cream coming through. A very promising example.
Overall: Golan Heights do a two grain blend that features the wheat and barley combination we have here. It’s matured in a combination of cask including Cabernet and Chardonnay at a remarkable 1300 feet above sea level, near the Sea of Galilee before being bottled. This sample I presume is a cask component of the recipe but grants us a glimpse of a traditional cask almost touching upon the definitive 3-year requirement. I know I could produce this and surprise quite a few enthusiasts at a tasting with its qualities and confidence.
Single Malt 31 months old
This comes from a 1st fill Cabernet American oak cask at 61.8% volume and has yet to be named officially.
Colour: toffee with a slight reddish tint
Nose: a richer caramel this time but laced with raspberries and dark chocolate. Red liquorice, a splash of rose water, walnuts and honey push this more towards the sweet scale
Taste: oh yes now the sweetness comes through on the palate and is very drinkable. A red flush initially with liquorice, apples, cranberries and grapes. A very juicy arrival that lacks a little body but hey its just a juvenile. Cola cubes, caramel and a rubbed brass finish.
Overall: again impressive and this fella is shaping up better than some of young spirits I’ve tried from several current Scottish distilleries awaiting their whisky debut.
Well, this has been an education and isn’t that part of the whisky journey? This fledgling Israeli distillery is clearly doing something right and when it’s produce reaches these shores I’d seriously suggest you check it out.