Today, we’re going to the land of milk and honey.
For short, though, we’ll be referring to that Old Testament pairing as “M&H.” Indeed, that’s what the owners of Israel’s distillery-also-known-as-Milk-and-Honey have settled on. The distillery’s logo is a bull in bee livery, which is appropriate… setting aside the fact that bulls don’t traditionally produce milk.
Speaking of non-traditional products: what do you look for when tasting a malt whisky from outside established malt whisky-making regions? For some of us, it might be tempting to use Scotland’s finest malts as a yardstick. I’d argue against this approach, unless a distiller has said specifically that they’re looking to compete head-to-head with the “old world” malts.
Rather, I look for the same things I look for in all whiskies, plus one more. The foundational list is breadth of aromas and flavors, depth of aromas and flavors, a variety of textures, persistence, and the harmonious integration of all the above into a cohesive whole. The “plus one” is something distinctive, ideally harkening back to a characteristic part or elemental aspect of the region.
This can be achieved in many ways. The all-enveloping kaleidoscope of the Blackadder Raw Cask Amrut is perhaps my favorite, being a liquid evocation of the overwhelming sensory experience that is traveling in India. The Starward Tawny, by virtue of its cask finishes, incorporated all the excellent aspects of the new make with additional nuances that harkened back to the Australian wine country, itself a creole of European tradition and antipodean improvisation.
In this case, I don’t have any preconceptions about Israel, beyond some vague culinary notions imparted by many meals at Middle Eastern restaurants. However, I’ll not be expecting notes of hummus, dates, and baba ghanouj, necessarily. Instead, I’ll be evaluating this whisky in terms of its intrinsic flavors and how well the distillate shows through whatever influence may have been exerted by the cask.
Back to M&H: the distillery, located in Tel Aviv, has a production setup consisting of four stainless steel washbacks and two copper stills. Distillation capacity is 800,000 liters per year, though current production rates are but a quarter of that. The distillery has been producing since 2014, with consultation by Dr. Jim Swan prior to his passing in 2017. The current range encompasses the “Classic” single malt (from a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks; 46%) and three “Elements” expressions (Sherry, Peated, and Red Wine; all 46%), as well as a pair of gins.
Today’s review is not of a core range expression, however, but rather an independent bottling of a single cask. Appropriately – given the whisky comes from the Holy Land – the folks bringing us this bottle are the Jewish Whisky Company, doing business as Single Cask Nation. This label should be familiar to our readers from the extensive coverage it has received in this space of late. Most recently, you’ll have enjoyed Jason’s survey of their second U.K retail release, as well as my extensive conversation with Jason Johnstone-Yellin regarding their bottling of 12 Year Old MGP Light Whiskey.
Single Cask Nation has featured M&H in the form of a two-year-old Jamaican rum cask bottling, as well as including another two-year-old – the subject of today’s review – as part of the company’s sixth U.S. retail release. Proprietors Jason Johnstone-Yellin and Joshua Hatton are clearly fans of M&H, and you can hear more about M&H (including an interview with Tal and Tomer from the distillery) in this episode of their podcast.
It’s also worth noting that this is not Malt’s first dalliance with M&H. Jason reviewed M&H’s “Young Single Malt” release back in 2018, which he criticized for (among other things) obscuring too much of the distillery’s DNA under the heavy-handed influence of Islay casks. This review was an informative preamble to my consideration of this whisky. As with others, I will be approaching this with the hope that an ex-bourbon barrel will allow more of the malt to show through, relative to other more aggressive cask finishes.
This single malt Israeli whisky was distilled in June 2017, aged in a first fill bourbon barrel (cask #0118) and bottled in December 2019, in a run of 256 bottles. It comes to us at the cask strength of 59.85% ABV. Retail price for a 750 ml bottle is $80 near me; recommended retail price at the time of release was closer to $90. This sample was a generous gift from David; toda and shalom and l’chaim and all that good stuff to him.
Single Cask Nation M&H 2 Years Old ex-Bourbon Cask – Review
Color: Pale maize.
On the nose: Cereal grains upfront; nearly beery to start. The malt dominates initially, but with time some aromas of chocolate nonpareils, sarsaparilla, and vanilla extract begin to emerge. With further sniffing, sprigs of mint, lemon curd, and a creamy note of whipped, salted butter make appearances. Prolonged nosing reveals floral scented hand soap and honey. In all, this is obviously youthful but very cheery.
In the mouth: Subtle to start, this has a slightly soapy texture at the front of the mouth. The whisky moves toward the center of the tongue with a blandly meaty note of roasted chicken breast. There’s a warm and bready feeling before the emergence of piquant spices transitions into an overarching, almost acridly woody flavor and texture as this moves toward the back of the mouth. The whisky finishes with a nip of cinnamon and a lingering, dry minerality before it livens up for a final time with another pert note of mint.
Balance and intensity are astounding for a malt whisky this young. It’s far from perfect, but the nose is delightful, and the palate has some charms to offset the afore-picked nits. It also benefits from being presented at cask strength. Whether any of this is characteristic to the Levant, I am too much of an Israeli whisky novice to say. However, I got the sense that the salient tastes and smells were mostly coming from the distillate, rather than being imparted in domineering fashion by the cask.
I can understand those who would balk at paying this much for a whisky of this age. However, when comparing it to the other kinds of single malt whisky I can procure at this price point (Highland Park Valknut and Balvenie Caribbean Cask among them), I am happier to have had this up-and-comer rather than a down-and-outer official bottling. It’s probably not to everyone’s tastes, but it had enough verve to keep me interested. As a consequence, I am awarding a score above the middle of the range.
Photograph kindly provided by Single Cask Nation.