Israel produces many wonderful things. It is a leader in high-tech and medical innovations. The land yields a bounty of fruits and vegetables, and the country is quickly retaking its place as a producer of amazing wine. David Zibell, a new arrival to the Golan, would like to see Israel become a leader in single malt whiskeys. He has already begun distilling, but, even though he is the first single malt made in Israel, you will still have to wait 3 years to taste the proof.
I sat with him recently, cigar and snifter in hand, as he introduced me to the heady aromas and textured smells of the beverage he is so passionate about.
I am totally ignorant so please tell me, what is single malt, and how is it different than regular whiskey?
Single malt is whiskey distilled by one distillery, using one kind of malted grain, usually barley. Whiskey that isn’t single malt is usually made from blends of different whiskeys that can come from several different distilleries.
How long does it take to make?
It’s a fairly simple process, taking just a few days. But aging in the barrels is a minimum of 3 years. Right now, we are distilling 225 – 450 liters a week, which is 1-2 barrels. During the aging, it evaporates in the barrels and it goes down to 150 liters in each barrel after 3 years. You can age it longer, but then even more evaporates. It ages quickly in the Israel climate. If I bottle it at cask strength, that would be 215 bottles per barrel. But it is better at 46% which gives about 280 bottles.
Did you learn from anyone how to do this?
I recently toured Scotland. They were very nice people. It made me realize how much I wanted to do this and how possible it is. They’ve kept the original process. It’s very simple, not complicated at all. The process is very basic and that leaves you with a wide range of what you can do. I’m trying to create own style, not specifically like any other whiskey. I am using local barrels from the winery, and am leaving it unfiltered, distilling it with the grain, making it more full flavored.
Are you doing anything else besides single malt?
My single malt will be called Ashtarot, but I’ll also be making a 100% rye whiskey called Hermon, and a corn whiskey called Bashan.
I see from your website that you also make absinthe.
Yes. I am originally from Paris, though I lived in Montreal my whole life. I began making absinthe and then I found out my great great grandmother used to have an absinthe bar in northern France, until absinthe became illegal in 1915. My great great grandfather used to hunt and fish at night, what you might call poaching. One night, he fell through the ice in the North Sea and drowned. My great great grandmother had to make a living so she opened up an absinthe bar and brewed her own absinthe.
Is that the recipe you use?
No. I use a more original recipe from around 1855. I still have an original spoon she used for serving the liquor and am having others made like it.
When people think of single malt, they usually think of Scotland. Why did you come to Israel and jump right into this?
We came to visit the Golan and I saw the area was ideal. There is an abundance of natural spring water and the climate is ideal.
David is trying to raise money through crowd funding. He prefers to use this method, rather than through investors. He doesn’t want the pressure of giving an increasing return on money, preferring to remain focused on making the best whiskey he can make for the next three years. People who participate in the campaign will receive vouchers for bottles of the product of their choice.