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Single-Malt Whiskey From The Dead Sea?

Israeli businessmen are raising money and looking for a Tel Aviv location for what would be the Israel's first whiskey distillery.

Getting set up
Getting set up
Gali Volotzky

TEL AVIV So three guys go into a bar: an Israeli millionaire who made his fortune from algorithmic trading, a Swedish marketing specialist, and the owner of a high-tech solar energy company.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but maybe one day this is how the story of the first Israeli whiskey distillery will start.

Its founders say the Milk and Honey Distillery, which is still in the process of being created, is bound to be the first single-malt distillery in Israel. Since it will be the first of its kind in the holy land, it might as well produce the best whiskey, made 100% by barley malt in a single factory.

Gal Kalkshtein, whose family made a fortune from black-box trading, is among the distillery’s entrepreneurs and its only investor to date. (The group is trying to pre-sell the first edition of its whiskey to investors through a crowdfunding website called indiegogo.)

He is driven by “a mix between something that comes from the heart, from my love of the whiskey culture, and from the desire to develop in Israel a valuable brand that we could be proud of,” Kalkshtein says. “And also from the desire to found a business that could make a lot of money.”

Manufacturing whiskey in Israel would be an important milestone for the local spirits market. Traditionally, whiskey was produced only in Ireland and Scotland, though Japan began producing it some 90 years ago, and distilleries have been founded over the last two decades in the Czech Republic, Sweden, New Zealand and even India and Taiwan.

Global partners, local whiskey

Kalkshtein’s partners are Amit Dror, owner of Eternegy, a company specializing in solar energy, and Simon Fried, an Eternegy employee who is also an associate of another high-tech project of Dror’s. All of them love distilled beer and have been interested in it for many years.

“I made beer at home, and it was nice,” says Dror. “But the moment I discovered whiskey, which is actually old distilled beer, I fell in love with it.”

Fried was born in Sweden and spent his childhood moving around Europe with his parents. He was the one who brought up the idea based on Mackmyra, a Swedish whiskey distillery founded by a crazy group of friends in 1999. “They were also were mocked at the beginning,” Fried says. “Obviously, because what is there to whiskey and Sweden? Today they not only produce very fine whiskey, but they also have a lot of economic success.”

Even though the group is fledgling, they are already thinking beyond Israel’s borders, of producing kosher whiskey for consumers globally. “Even big whiskey brands sell kosher whiskey as a business move,” Dror says. “The Israeli market is small, but the Jewish communities around the world who put a whiskey bottle on the table at every Saturday meeting at the synagogue would very glad to drink Israeli whiskey.”

At the moment, they are looking for a distillery location, preferably in the center of Tel Aviv to keep the brand close to the community. The refinery boilers, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, are already stored in containers at the Ashdod harbor, and the cellars that will be used for aging will be in warehouses around the country.

“One whiskey will be aging in the Dead Sea, another one around Jerusalem, and there will even be a whiskey from the Negev,” Kalkshtein explains. “Additionally, and no less important, it will be an incredible story. Scotland has the lakes stories, and we have the lowest place on earth to age whiskey, so why wouldn’t we use it?”

The business does not expect to be profitable during the first few years — at least not from whiskey, which needs to age at least three years before being bottled. But it plans to produce other beverages that have shorter or nonexistent aging times. Among them are bourbon and white whiskey.

“There are some who already pre-bought three bottles of the first edition,” Dror says. “When I called to ask why they bought three and not one, they answered: ‘one to drink, one to put on the shelf and one for the collection’. One day, this first edition bottle will be worth a lot of money.”

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