It’s always a surprise to receive messages whether via the
website here or one of my other social media outlets. Recently these have been
thanks for keeping whisky entertaining via Whisky Rover and my honesty in a sea
of blinkered sources. I find these messages somewhat reassuring and humbling. A
validation if you like, that what I do here has substance and oddly is noticed
now and again.
Whisky Rover is always about my journey through whisky and
my discoveries and adventures. The fact that you tune in now and again is a
bonus. It has enabled me to receive the odd offer as well which comes as a
surprise as I’ve never sought PR contact or stroked the hand that feeds so many.
One of these messages arrived recently via the Golan Heights distillery based
in Israel and whether I’d like to try some of their produce? It was frankly a
very straightforward decision to try whiskies from a country I know from experience
has a passionate fan base for whisky. Recently I reviewed a Tormore bottled especially for the Whisky Live event in Tel Aviv that set a high benchmark so
now to head back and actually taste local produce is a welcome opportunity.
Golan Heights distillery is a recent arrival on the
distilling scene and like so many brethren in Scotland, was founded in 2014, the current best resource for the distillery is via their Facebook page. My
geography of Israel is very limited but the distillery is situated in the northern
area of the country. A historical region that dates back to an ancient time of
the Kings of Israel and beyond, today’s border splits Golan Heights with Syria
where it has been the source of local disputes between these 2 countries. It
seems an interesting site for a distillery and bringing whisky to life using
the natural resources of Israel.
The concept and ambition for the Golan Heights Distillery
comes from David Zibell, formerly a French Canadian real estate professional
who decided to follow his passion for distilling to Israel. Upon visiting the
region, he felt that the resources it offered including the abundance and quality
of it numerous spring waters would make a perfect environment for whisky. The
initial plan was to distil a trio of whiskies assisted by other spirits
(absinthe, arak and gin) to provide revenue prior to the 3-year minimum required
to label its own spirit as whisky. These took the form of a rye whiskey, a
single malt whisky and a corn mash whiskey. Part of the plan is also to utilise
local wine casks from the region although the samples we have here come via the
more commonly seen ex-American oak casks. David is certainly a very busy many
given he is the owner, distiller and founder of this what can only be described
as a craft distillery.
The temperatures in Israel are needless to say significantly
higher than those seen across Scotland. Therefore, what necessarily is a young
whisky on paper might in maturation terms be considerably older due to those
pesky angels taking their share. It’ll be interesting to see where Israel
stacks up when considering the hot climates of Australia, India and Taiwan. So
without further ado lets line up this trio and see what they have been
distilling in Golan Heights.
Golan Heights Gin
Bottled at 45% strength, this gin consists of juniper, coriander,
angelica, cassia, cardamom, myrtle, black pepper, lavender and citrus medica.
Nose: it’s the citrus that grabs your attention initially
before a calmness descends across this gin. Then more sweetness, almost
confectionary-like sherbet with the darker spices taking back the reigns over
the juniper and coriander. Lavender is a divisive fellow and whilst it’s in the
mix here thankfully it’s wisely a delicately added ingredient.
Taste: this is very interesting from my experience of gin as
it’s not forceful and screaming for attention. Rather than being the Boris
Johnson of gin, it’s a content backbencher. Very refreshing and the elements
have a real natural vibrancy as opposed to some of the artificial essences that
can unravel with some gins. The elements
here almost combine to create a sweet black liquorice experience with just
Overall: don’t worry this isn’t going to turn into a gin
website despite the obvious potential of hits and popularity (2 elements I
rarely focus on), but this gin much like those I’ve tasted from the Dornoch distillery, has an air of authenticity about it. It is surprisingly tasty and
aromatic but anyone else out there reading this please don’t see this as a
green light to start offering me gin.
Golani Black wheat & malt barley 2-year-old
From a newly charred American oak barrel at 63.4% volume
Nose: the appeal of juicy apples dipped in caramel that
rotates into marzipan and a peanut brittle. There’s a floral undercurrent
amidst the obvious vanilla, with the obvious sense that you’d never guess this
was just 2-years-old. Although it’s a newly charred cask this doesn’t come
through as evidently upon nosing.
Taste: an obvious vanilla cream and the strength carries
through until the finish. Yet a remarkable assortment of apricots, more
caramelised apples and nougat. Traces of honey and a chocolate brownie on the finish
with more cream coming through. A very promising example.
Overall: Golan Heights do a two grain blend that features
the wheat and barley combination we have here. It’s matured in a combination of
cask including Cabernet and Chardonnay at a remarkable 1300 feet above sea level,
near the Sea of Galilee before being bottled. This sample I presume is a cask
component of the recipe but grants us a glimpse of a traditional cask almost
touching upon the definitive 3-year requirement. I know I could produce this
and surprise quite a few enthusiasts at a tasting with its qualities and
Single Malt 31-months-old
This comes from a 1st fill Cabernet American oak
cask at 61.8% volume and has yet to be named officially.
Colour: toffee with a slight reddish tint
Nose: a richer caramel this time but laced with raspberries and dark chocolate. Red liquorice, a splash of rose water, walnuts and honey push this more towards the sweet scale
Taste: oh yes now the sweetness comes through on the palate and is very drinkable. A red flush initially with liquorice, apples, cranberries and grapes. A very juicy arrival that lacks a little body but hey its just a juvenile. Cola cubes, caramel and a rubbed brass finish.
Overall: again impressive and this fella is shaping up better than some of young spirits I've tried from several current Scottish distilleries awaiting their whisky debut.
Well, this has been an education and isn't that part of the whisky journey? This fledgling Israeli distillery is clearly doing something right and when it's produce reaches these shores I'd seriously suggest you check it out.
Labels: distillery, featured, gin, Golan Heights, Israel