Traditional and Experimental Whisky Development at Tel Aviv’s M&H Distillery

Exploring the first venture to produce single malt whisky in Israel

M&H Distillery, the first brand to produce single malt whisky in Israel, is a hub for experimentation. The innovative team utilizes the various climates around Israel to influence maturation (otherwise known as the aging process), going so far as to set up casks on the roof of a hotel by the Dead Sea. An exploration of their Tel Aviv headquarters reveals both traditional flavor profiles as well as the special characteristics unique to making whisky in Israel’s diverse topography and warm Mediterranean weather.

Courtesy of M&H Distillery

Gal Kalkshtein founded M&H Distillery—originally as Milk & Honey Whisky Distillery—in 2014. In the nine years since, M&H has burgeoned into an award-winning whisky-making operation. Located in the Giv’at Hertsel neighborhood, the distillery offers tours and tastings of their wide range of expressions.

Visitors will find a tasting room in constant motion—often set up for public tours and training for local bartenders and culinary professionals. Walking into the distillery and standing next to the stills, witnessing whisky-making may teleport your brain to images of Scotland, Ireland or Kentucky and underscore the universal language of the practice throughout the world. It’s in the barrel room, however, that being in Israel begins to inform aspects of their process.

by Julie Wolfson

The team at M&H sources their barley from Muntons in the UK and yeast from Fermentis in Belgium. Most of their casks are ex-bourbon barrels from the world famous Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky along with a variety of STR, wine, rum and tequila casks. And even though their whiskies are made in accordance with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the brand is constantly exploring what can be distinct to whisky made in Israel.

Courtesy of M&H Distillery

Kalkshtein used to brew beer at home before a colleague suggested he try making whisky. The conversation sparked curiosity and led to more discussions in the culinary world. “I spoke with a few of the most knowledgeable people in the Israeli alcohol industry who also thought it was a great idea,” Kalkshtein recalls. However, he also encountered some skepticism from those who thought a whisky from Israel made little sense.

Courtesy of M&H Distillery

Kalkshtein’s desire to be a part of whisky culture was partly due to the time involved: not only making something that takes time to distill and mature, but also something that should be sipped slowly and savored. He wanted to work with the most senior whisky-maker in Israel and sought out master distiller Tomer Goren, who graduated from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London and had worked at distilleries in Scotland.

Courtesy of M&H Distillery

Kalkshtein and Goren chose to set up the distillery in Tel Aviv in order to be a part of the city’s culinary scene. The plan was to make whisky with classic Scottish techniques, but also to use the diverse topography and age the whisky in various locations throughout the country. They opened close to old Jaffa and the flea market and the Levontin neighborhood, an area of the city that’s home to a lot of the creative community. “We built the distillery in our hometown to complement the beachfront, lively markets and architecture,” says Kalkshtein. “The distillery is located where the Eilat bakery used to be, so it’s nice to think that the grain base has remained.”

Courtesy of M&H Distillery

M&H also makes oak-aged gin and Levantine gin, distilled in-house with juniper and botanicals hand-sourced from Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market—including Syrian oregano, lemon peel, orange, chamomile, verbena, cinnamon and black pepper. Being in proximity and conversation with entrepreneurs, innovators, makers and artisans, M&H has become part of the story of new products being made and celebrated in modern Tel Aviv.

Further, they invite the cocktail and restaurant community to visit the distillery to learn about the process and to taste their products. The two largest bartending schools, as well as culinary schools, bring their students for educational experiences. They have also created two limited edition gins with OCD Restaurant and Hertzl 16, and made a special single cask bottling with the Whisky Bar Museum in Tel Aviv.

Courtesy of M&H Distillery

Following the release of their award-winning Apex Dead Sea whisky, Kalkshtein and Goren continue to explore the various climate zones in Israel and plan to release Apex Sea of Galilee and Apex Jerusalem Mountains. “We also intend to release the Art & Craft yearly project, which will feature five different whiskies aged in dessert wine casks this year,” he adds.

All of the releases continue to prove the skeptics wrong. “Some people told me it was impossible to make whisky in Israel,” Kalkshtein says, “which just made me think I could do anything.”

Hero image courtesy of M&H Distillery