The enthusiasm of youth. At times it’s magnetic and a distant memory for many of us nowadays. The boisterous energy and inquisitive nature. The sense that the world awaits with an open book of possibilities and that there are no limits.
Except in whisky, there are limits and rules. Especially if you make camp in Scotland. The Scotch Whisky Association will come down on you like a ton of bricks otherwise. This brings its own positives and admittedly negatives. For a distillery such as Milk & Honey in Tel Aviv, there is a sense of liberation but also playing with danger. Calling this initial release a young single malt is somewhat misleading from a Scotch perspective. Legally it cannot be called whisky yet as the distillery won’t have a whisky ready until 2019.
These Young Single Malt releases are in Kilkerran terms, a work in progress. The ability to follow and decipher what the distillery is currently harbouring and where the potential will take it. An experimental series with a limited outturn. This triple cask offering comes in an edition of 1451 bottles and is a blend of 3 cask types. Yes, we’re verging on a Laphroaig 4 Oak madness and who can forget the Jura 7 Wood nightmare?
In the recipe are 2 ex-red wine casks with different levels of cask char and a faithful ex-bourbon barrel. This barrel previously held Islay whisky giving a peated twist to the Israeli spirit drink, bottled at 46% strength. You’ll find this release available via the Whisky Exchange for £60.95, noting that this is a 50cl offering. Meaning we have to reach for the calculator and upscale. The end result is this for a 70cl bottle size would set you back around £85.33.
It’s not cheap even by Scottish standards. The best part of £90 for something not legally whisky. A little unapalatable indeed, but not as disappointing as some of the debut whisky releases being unleashed by the new generation of Scottish distilleries. The Glasgow distillery for instance will happily charge you £100 for a 50cl of its debut release that has been finished in the overly aggressive virgin wood. Perspective. It always matters and if you can get away with charging more in a booming market, then onlookers will try and go a step further next time.
For the Milk & Honey distillery, they’ve certainly invested in the right talent and consulted the late Dr Jim Swan who has been extremely influential in the recent wave of distilleries. The climate in Israel is a touch warmer than Scotland. This translates into an anticipated maturation acceleration of 2-2.5 times compared to the greatest wee country in the world. This doesn’t mean better, only quicker. Adding water to any Kavalan release I’ve found opens up the cracks in turbo-charged maturation and Noortje agreed. What seemed great is extremely taught and fragile.
The geothermic regions of Israel offer their own unique maturation possibilities with Milk & Honey set to experiment further. Much like a certain Scandinavian distillery that has been utilising warehouses across its country. If there are such avenues open then grasp them and experiment – we’ll be watching.
Milk & Honey Young Single Malt – review
Colour: 8 Carat gold.
On the nose: Some peat and damp cardboard, black pepper, smoked sweetcorn and fresh pancakes. Popcorn follows along with haddock and vanilla ice cream. There’s also a light honey, chewed pencil and an inoffensive nature but where’s the distillery character?
In the mouth: An immediate Islay influence with the peaty coastal sea spray flavours we’re all well versed in. Orange peel, apple jelly and a sweet peat with a very short finish. It does feel young but entirely drinkable.
I’m left questioning why? The spirit seems well made but has been force-fed a diet of cask. What you have here is more representative of Islay. And for the asking price, you can have a great deal more Islay with a bit more depth and clarity. I can appreciate the need to bottle for some young distilleries. The financial requirements and the desire to be one of the first from a foreign realm. Yet, at the heart of it all remains the whisky, or in this case the spirit trying to pull off being a whisky.
The other concern from my perspective is simply what makes Milk & Honey different? What does this distillery showcase within the DNA of the spirit that gives us a definitive slant? Yes, perhaps it is too soon, but the clues or breadcrumb trail have been washed away by the Islay influence, which is misjudged. I’m not offended by the spirit here whatsoever. If I want Islay, I know where to turn to, living in Scotland. Ditch the need to tick the popular peated aspect in the market currently, or the pressures from distributors. Give us what your distillery is going to define itself as going forward.
I would have found this a more intriguing experience at a higher strength and minus the Islay cask. We’ve had some cracking wine casks from the Golan Heights distillery that showcase real promise at a young age. The competition is on.
Photograph from the Whisky Exchange and the sample was purchased at the Whiskybase Gathering event.