Before he joined The M&H Distillery in Israel as Area Sales Manager and Brand Ambassador in early 2022, Shilton Almeida was with Paul John Whisky for ten years. During that time, seemingly everyone in the whisky world had raised a glass with him at one occasion or another – except for me. Though we connected on Facebook a while ago, we never met in person … until recently, when Shilton visited my hometown Hamburg to present an exclusive selection of finest M&H qualities. The event was organized by the distillery’s German importer Kammer-Kirsch, whose Head of Sales for the Northern region, Florian Weiss, kindly invited me to take part. Needless to say, I happily joined in. After all, this marked a great opportunity to try some exciting world whiskies, catch up with Flo, and finally have a dram with Shilton.
As we nipped our welcome drink – a refreshing Gin Tonic made with The M&H Distillery’s award-winning Levantine Gin – our host told us a bit more about the company he works for. The two letters “M” and “H” stand for “Milk” and “Honey”. This is obviously a reference to Israel’s nickname “The Land of Milk and Honey” and not, as Shilton noted with a smirk, a description of the product’s flavor profile. The origin of The M&H Distillery goes back to the year 2012. At first, co-founder Gal Kalkshtein planned to open a well-stocked, high-class whisky bar in his home town Tel Aviv together with some friends. Then, he and his partners spun the idea further: Why serve someone else’s whisky if we could also make our own? Once the thought had sunken in, they began with the realization. For this they got the late Dr. Jim Swan on board, who helped dozens of distilleries around the globe to either start or streamline their operations. These include Lindores Abbey (Scotland), Penderyn (Wales), Kavalan (Taiwan), or Cotswolds (England), just to name a few. Currently, The M&H Distillery produces over 200,000 liters of alcohol per year, every single drop of which is kosher-certified. As Shilton explained, the unit has to tick a number of boxes for this: Using carefully selected ingredients. Sourcing specially treated casks. Not working on weekends and holidays. And more.
Our first dram of the evening was Elements Red Wine. The name derives from the fact that The M&H Distillery creates these core range bottlings by adding an additional element to the base whisky – in this case: red wine casks (which sheltered round about 40 per cent of the spirit used in the recipe). According to Shilton, this expression is particularly hard to make, because the red wine-soaked wood can quickly overpower the spirit. Thankfully, this did not happen here. The balance between the distillate and the cask is well-equilibrated and the sensory experience is smooth, succulent, and sophisticated. I especially liked how the sturdy foundation (popcorn, brittle, cake) got punctured by sweet and fruity highlights (redcurrant, raspberry, kiwi) again and again throughout the degustation. Next up, it got funky! Our second drop was APEX Pomegranate Wine Cask, which might as well be the only release in the world with such a wood formula. For Shilton, pomegranate wine is a rather acquired taste; but the casks work mighty fine for Milk & Honey nonetheless! The exotic six-month finish promoted a colorful and vibrant flavor profile full of strawberry-infused toffee and cherry-flavored yoghurt as well as sweet prunes, juicy grapes, dark chocolate, burnt caramel, fresh mint crème, and sugared berries (both red and blue in color).
After this off-the-rails experience, we followed up with a more traditional pour, namely APEX Sherry Cask. If you have wondered what exactly the APEX range is, here comes an explanation: In the M&H portfolio, the limited edition APEX bottlings constitute the next-highest level after the permanently available Classic and Elements bottlings. They either come as small batch or as single cask releases; they are drawn from extra-special casks; and they always pack a natural, high-strength ABV. When I tried APEX Sherry Cask, the full-bodied and flavor-intense malt instantly won me over with its deep and complex tapestry of aromas: Raspberry, plum, raisin, rosehip, cinnamon, and milk-choc praline. Whereas our first three whiskies had finishes, number four – APEX STR Cask – was a full maturation. I found this “Germany Exclusive”, which Flo selected for Kammer-Kirsch’s local market, to be significantly brighter and lighter than the opening trio. To the nose, it offered gooseberry, kiwi, and other green fruits alongside buttered popcorn and white pepper. To the palate, it gave cotton candy, honey cake, vanilla pudding, clotted cream, and peach – all culminating in a strong finale that was sweet, creamy, and spicy in equal shares.
When I first tried it, I could have sworn that APEX Dead Sea, which was next in line, was a peated expression. Both during the nosing and the degustation, it felt noticeably more oily and fumy to me than the previous drams. Yet, when I asked Shilton about it, his response was “Nope. This one’s made entirely from unpeated barley.” With me being so far off the track here, you might consider twice whether you will take my description of the malt to heart. One way or another, here it is: Scent-wise, I registered all kinds of citrusy, herby, chewy, and smoky notes. And taste-wise, I got pistachio, cereal, kernel, mint gum, and black tea. Plus toffee, pastry, and – again – that ominous reek and puff. Besides the whisky’s deep and darkish profile, its origin story is also highly exciting: APEX Dead Sea is mainly vatted from ex-Bourbon and STR casks with a small percentage of red wine casks added to the mix as well. All of these vessels were kept in close proximity to the Dead Sea, more than 400 meters below sea level. The extreme climate of the place elicited a most dynamic and agitated ripening process – with an Angels’s Share far beyond the 20 per cent barrier!
Our sixth and final whisky of the evening unleashed the peat – this time for real! APEX Fortified Wine Cask is based on peated barley imported from Scotland (40 ppm) and matured in casks obtained from an Israeli winery (hence the general expression “fort. wine” on the label rather than the protected term “Port wine”). It opened with fresh and sourish smells of lemon peel and raspberry squash, followed by sweeter aromas of brittle and bramble. Plus a good amount of black, tarry smoke! On the palate, sweet red fruits took the lead. They appeared together with cherry-flavored lollipops, purple wine gums, dark choc-glazed cake, and more sooth. Thanks to the long-lasting finish, this big and bold dram kept us company for quite a while, drawing a powerful line under a fantastic dramming event! While I have not bought a bottle from The Milk & Honey Distillery before, its top-quality releases are now high up on my purchase list. As a craft beer fan, I am especially curious to try their brand-new Art & Craft edition finished in a chocolate porter cask; yet, I would not be surprised if some of the whiskies from this tasting would also find their way into my whisky shelf in the future!
Elements Red Wine (Sing. Malt Whisky / Israel / Bourbon & Red Wine / 46% / EUR 55)
APEX Sherry (Sing. Malt Whisky / Israel / PX Sherry / 53.6% / EUR 75)
APEX Pomegranate Wine (Sing. Malt Whisky / Israel / Pomegr. Wine / 59.5% / EUR 75)
APEX STR Single Cask (Sing. Malt Whisky / Israel / STR Cask / 58.5% / EUR 60)
APEX Dead Sea (Sing. Malt Whisky / Israel / Oak Casks / 56.2% / EUR 95)
APEX Peated Fort. Wine (Sing. Malt Whisky / Israel / Fortified Wine / 55.3% / EUR 85)
*** I was kindly invited to the event by Kammer-Kirsch. Thank you. ***