Smooth, honey-brown whiskey is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Israel. However, at the Milk and Honey Distillery, rows of casks proudly stamped "Tel Aviv" hold liters of the stuff.
The country's first whiskey distillery is preparing to release Israel's first single malt whiskey.
"It's a young whiskey," said Eitan Attir, the distillery's CEO.
Attir says the brew is aged for three years and two months in virgin oak and old bourbon barrels at the company's renovated former bakery in a rugged industrial area of south Tel Aviv.
"It's complex for its age," he said. "The taste feels like more than three years, more like seven or eight and again the story is much more important in this case. This is the first ever single malt whiskey that any distillery has released from Israel."
Although wine has been produced in the Holy Land for millennia, and modern Israeli wines have gained international renown in recent years, whiskey production is new to the country.
Milk and Honey was founded in 2013 and began distilling small experimental batches of whiskey a year later. One hundred bottles from their first cask of Single Malt are set to be sold at an online auction starting August 11.
Whiskey is universally acceptable for religious Jews to consume, Attir says, and Milk and Honey's drink is "ultra-kosher."
"We don't work on Saturday, we don't work on Yom Kippur or Passover," he said. "And we want to symbolize our being Jewish or Israeli and then we called it the Milk and Honey Distillery."
Warmer climate more amenable
The single malt was made in Israel from start to finish, according to the company's website, though the ingredients, barrels and equipment were imported from the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere. The warmer climate in Israel allows for a speedier aging process in the barrel than whiskey made in colder climates, according to Ran Latovicz, an Israeli whiskey connoisseur and bar owner.
"In colder climates like Scotland or Ireland, whiskey usually ages for about seven to 10 to 12 years before it's even bottled because [it is] just the way, you know, it gets to its full potential," he said.
The distillery believes it is well positioned to ride a wave of growing international interest in new world whiskeys, like rising stars from Taiwan or India, and hopes this initial offering whets the appetites of aficionados everywhere.
"There's a huge demand nowadays for whiskey from other places around the world - new world whiskey. There's more than 70 countries now with a minimum of one distillery and one of them is Israel," Attir said.
Gal Kalkshtein, Milk and Honey's founder and owner, said he hopes that once the whiskey starts getting shipped abroad in 2019, it will create a buzz for Israeli whiskies.
"We want to be recognized for our quality, not the gimmick," he said.