Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Transforming Whiskey Production in the Middle East

February 21, 2013 2:09 am 0 comments

The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery in Bushmills, Ireland. Photo: Rachael Cerrotti/Flash90.

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.”

At first glance, it may seem out of place to produce whiskey in the Middle East. But many may not realize that the science behind whiskey production—distillation—originated in the region thousands of years ago as alchemy, a sort of mythical pseudoscience that attempted to produce gold from other elements.

Evidence points to numerous ancient Middle Eastern civilizations—such as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and even Jewish alchemists—experimenting with distillation. Even the Bible alludes to King David as being an expert alchemist as well as several prophets, including Elijah, Isaiah and Ezekiel. Another famous Jewish alchemist was a woman known as “Mary the Jewess” who lived in the first century CE in Alexandria and experimented with boiling and distilling, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

It is based on this rich Middle Eastern tradition that whiskey was born. According to legend, Irish monks and soldiers traveling to the Holy Land as part of the Crusades (some say even earlier) first learned of the process of distillation from Middle Eastern alchemists and began producing whiskey when they returned. (In fact, this reporter’s own Irish ancestors may have also played a role in this legend. It is told that in 1276, that an Irish landlord named Sir Robert Savage—who also reportedly traveled to the Middle East on Crusade decades earlier—would serve his soldiers whiskey before going into battle, a sort of early liquid courage).

Whisky barrels at the White and MacKay distillery in Invergordon, Scotland. Photo: John Haslam.

Aside from the legend, it is known that the process of distillation, like beer and wine production before it, originated in the Middle East and then spread to Europe. This is seen in the language and equipment we use to produce alcohol today. The word alcohol comes from the Arabic al-kuḥl, a powder used as eyeliner, and the alembic, the predecessor to the pot still used in whiskey and brandy production.This history can also be traced back by using the word whiskey itself, which comes fromthe Gaelic uisge beatha or Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life,” as it was known in antiquity.

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.

A bottle of the Israeli beer, Goldstar. Photo: Achi Raz.

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.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Music Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    British rock band Coldplay started its set at the Glastonburg Festival on Sunday by broadcasting excerpts of the iconic speech Charlie Chaplin delivered in The Great Dictator, the 1940 political satire in which the famous filmmaker/movie star played a Jewish barber. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone,” Chaplin begins his address. “I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →