A very early preview of a new Israeli distillery – Review of Golan Heights Distillery spirits

Almost two years ago there was a big earthquake here. Well, not a real physical earthquake as you may think but for the local alcohol and whisky scene it was an earthquake of magnitude 9 – the tax scheme on alcohol changed and with it, the doors for larger base of whisky and single malt whisky drinkers got opened wide.

And just like mushrooms after the rain, new web shops selling single malts were born, whisky clubs were founded and whatddoyouknow – a few distilleries were founded as well! Some are already working and some are still in newborn steps, going forward carried on the dreams of their founders.

One of those distilleries is the Golan Heights Distillery. The distillery, sitting in the northern part of Israel (just like another forthcoming distillery) is not in a dream state anymore as it’s already half way to real production. There are stills, equipment, barley, fresh water from a nearby spring, casks from the nearby big wine producer and even some trial whisky already being aged in casks.

david zibell

I’ve met David Zibell, the founder, for the first time in Whisky Live Tel-Aviv but back then I wasn’t aware of his distillery activity. Or it could be that it was mentioned but I blame the multiple drams I had just before that for forgetting it :-). But then David launched his crowd sourcing campaign and it was time to meet again, sit down and discuss Golan Heights Distillery and what he has to offer.

We met and discussed his journey through whisky, from a casual drinking and visiting distilleries to the clear realization that whisky making is what he wants to do after settling down in northern Israel. We also discussed the distillery plans and the initial plan is to offer three types of whisk(e)ies: 

  • Ashtarot – Single Malt Whisky
  • Hermon – 100% Rye Whisky
  • Bashan – Corn Whiskey

In addition, Absinthe will be offered to the public as an interim income source until the whisk(e)ies are ready.

David brought samples of his wares (from the casks already being matured to provide the crowd sourcing project perks), and even though I know they aren’t 100% represents the final product, I was curious to try them and see what are the characteristics and profiles of whisky distilled in the Golan region.

Ashtarot new make (diluted to roughly %50)

Nose: Creamy and malty, very fresh and unlike other new makes I had it takes water real good. Heavy and oily, aromatic sweetness and menthol.

Palate: Less sweet, very oily and carry some bitter spiciness along with menthol and some tiger balm.

Ashtarot new make was poured into a charred virgin oak. Let’s check what 6-7 months in the cask imparted on the spirit:

Ashtarot Single Malt 6-7 months spirit

ashtarotNose: Similar to the new make, it’s still heavy and oily with menthol but the oak impact is here with extra sweetness and fruitiness. Not much of oak spices yet so it seems like a slow maturation up there in the Golan Heights.

Palate: Oh, here the oak impact is stronger with sweetness and vanilla, still with creamy cereals and menthol, but very mellow for its age and there are oak wood spices at the end.

Finish: Medium-short finish with menthol, lingering sweetness and traces of oak wood spices.

Thoughts: Not bad at all for 6-7 months in cask. Yes, it will require a few more years in the cask and I think further batches will probably benefit from the wash staying for longer in the wash-backs to extract more esters and make the spirit a bit more fruity.

We moved on to the next whisky, 100% Rye whisky. Mind you, it’s not easy to produce 100% rye and David explained that he’s using a different variant of Rye cereal which has less viscosity than the normal one used in other distilleries around the world.

Hermon 100% Rye 6-7 months spirit

hermonNose: The liquid youth is noticeable as it’s still very much in new make form but the liquid characteristics are different from Ashtarot with strong spiciness and a touch of menthol and frankly, not much of Rye trademark notes here yet.

Palate: Oh this is spicy and more like Rye whisky with pines flavours. Very complex for its age

Finish: Medium length with spiciness and strong sweet fruits juice.

Lastly we moved to the Corn mash distillation (AKA corn whiskey):

Bashan Corn Mash 6-7 months spirit

bashanNose: new make, lots of corn, sweet oak, vanilla, flat and lighter

Palate: corn, burnt fuel, oak spices, vanilla, menthol, acetone,

Finish: Medium length. Spicy menthol, oak wood with sweet fruits & vanilla and burnt corn.

Then I tasted the Absinthe  (un-aged one) but as I’m novice in this kind of spirit, I didn’t take notes and will just say that it’s full of herbal flavours, semi sweet and for my untrained palate tasted like a good product if you like that kind of spirit.

Thoughts: Overall I was very impressed from Ashtarot and Hermon whiskies. There’s lots of promise in In Ashtarot and due to the heavy and oily nature of the new makes, I think that it will be able to handle wine/sherry/port casks very gracefully and I’m very intrigued by it and what can be achieved from correct and bold usage of it. Hermon Rye whisky won’t be far behind – despite the young age, the palate was lovely and it’s simply a matter of time in casks so that the nose will catch up (some serious catch up to do here). The corn mash was a bit disappointing as it’s lagging behind. I believe David knows there’s lots of work to do here and I trust he’ll get a recipe for the commercial product.

I intend to support David’s campaign. Not only because I’m very happy to see the distilleries scene growing up and I want to support them all. I’m supporting because there’s a great potential to those whiskies based upon the samples I had. I think I’d like to own a bottle or two of those and drink them. If you want to support Golan Heights Distillery, click here.


2 thoughts on “A very early preview of a new Israeli distillery – Review of Golan Heights Distillery spirits

  1. Pingback: Whisky Gospel visits the Golan Heights Distillery | WhiskyExperts

  2. Pingback: Whiskygospel: Besuch bei der Golan Heights Distillery (Israel) | WhiskyExperts

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