Whisky Live 2016Our summary of the hottest whisky-related event of the year.
To be honest, I never knew that much about whisky. A fun alcoholic beverage, mainly popular among sophisticated men? That’s the general knowledge passed around. When I started working at GKI Group, I entered a new level of whisky culture through Milk & Honey, the first whisky distillery in Israel. Gal Kalkshtein, Founder of GKI, is Founder and Director of the Milk & Honey Distillery, while Lital Kalkshtein, GKI CEO, is a Milk & Honey Director. When you walk into their spacious office with a view stretching 180 degrees from the sea, up north, and all the way towards the eastern border and down towards the southern hills, you can’t help but notice the many variations of whisky lining the shelves. Everything from first editions with hand written titles scribbled on, to classic name brands. But most of all there’s a collection of the many formulas comprising the history of Milk & Honey. So I’ve heard a lot about whisky here and actually visited the distillery once for the friends and family grand opening, but that was pretty much the extent of it — until last week at Whisky Live.
Apparently there are Whisky Live events around the world, with shows everywhere from China, Japan, and Singapore, to Cyprus, India, and South Africa — tons of places. Some of the hugest are in Rome and Paris. This was the third year it came to Israel, the second Milk & Honey has been presented, and my first time in attendance. It was a two day exhibition of world variations of whisky and it was quite a show.
From the outside, the building looked like a medium sized warehouse, but upon entering, you could catch glimpses of a classily designed bar-like atmosphere. After they checked our names off the list, a custom-made whisky glass was given to each of us, along with three tickets that could each be traded in for a sample of a whisky of our choice. We found our way to the Milk & Honey stand, where we had our gin, whisky, custom made Whisky Live special edition (with only 100 bottles made), new make, and new make honey cocktail.
The hall had been divided into a few different areas so one could easily browse the booths set up by the variety of whisky companies. One section behind a curtain had been designed with furnishings and artwork to create a speakeasy feel, and here barmen mixed fancy whisky cocktail combinations. In outside sections, food could be purchased among more places for sitting and mingling. But probably the coolest room for me was a small tented off area in the back, that most people didn’t even know existed. This was the room in which my perception and understanding of whisky was forever changed.
I was standing at our Milk & Honey booth when our Founder Gal invited me to join him in a private seminar that was shortly beginning. We got there just before it started, with only two seats left around a long table. Gal took a seat at the end, kindly leaving the seat next to the presenter open for me. I sat down in front of four glasses, each containing samples of whisky inside. In front of the presenter were four bottles. He began to talk in a mixed accent sounding a bit American, then Irish, then English, and he shared with us the history of Four Roses, and an overall understanding of bourbon- the detailed process of how it’s made in general, and more specifically in their own distillery. A world of laws and scents and tastes was revealed to me. When I first sat down and examined the four glasses, the contents all seemed identical, but by the end of that session, my eyes had been opened to just how unique each was. By the time I left the room, and entered back into the main event area, I felt I had truly gained a new understanding for this honey colored liquid, taking that confidence and excitement with me. The rest of the evening, speaking and learning about whisky had become that much more interesting.
The next day we returned, to support the Milk & Honey team at their booth. After meeting many intriguing whisky connoisseurs and bartenders, looking at other whiskys, and sharing ours with the attendees, we again took a trip to the small room in the back. Entering the white tent for the second time, it seemed to be set up pretty much the same as the day before, but on this day, four people from our Milk & Honey team sat at the front, and the four glasses were filled with our very own makes. It’s always four glasses isn’t it? Four to sample, four to commemorate the Pesach seder. Maybe four is just the right number to get the point across. Enough to get the right feeling, to have enough smells and tastes to be able to create your own cross reference to compare between. I was in charge of live streaming that talk and aside from a few connectivity errors due to the location of the room, it was beautiful getting nice angles and watching the participants faces and they “nosed” (a new word I learned, which means to smell whisky) and tasted the different types. They laughed and learned and if you don’t believe me (and if you speak Hebrew), you too can watch the beautiful presentation and the people who joined. Personally I didn’t understand the Hebrew, but I know the story of how the distillery came to be, and I can say it was beautiful because I watched four men tell the story of their dream and how it became real. No language barrier can stop you from seeing that and hearing that.
So like all of my favorite stories, I’ve understood that Milk & Honey is a love story. People following their hearts and coming together, and creating something special that didn’t exist in the world before. Even just the name of it represents something beautiful to me. Milk & Honey — two pure and sweet substances, natural with a gentle innocence. The promise of the holy land. Made in the holy land.
Let’s just say Whisky Live was a success. If you missed it, you missed out- and I wouldn’t be so harsh except there’s always next year and probably one in your city if you aren’t currently in Israel. Finally, the cherry on top was that Milk & Honey got ranked in #3 in a blind tasting, out of all of the whisky’s there. People blindly tried three different ones, not knowing what they were drinking and just loved Milk & Honey that much! Cheers to that!
Originally posted on Medium by Miriam Young