M&H Sense of Place
From sunshine to spirit: how geography impacts whisky
There’s a reason each and every whisky is different – climate, environment and culture all play pivotal roles in shaping character. At M&H Distillery, that sense of place is profound. This is the story of locality and flavour.
As the saying goes: there’s no place like home. The power of a place to evoke emotion, to feel distinct and vibrant, safe and cosy, is remarkable. Just like people, locations have their own character. Whether it is community, the architectural landscape, cuisine or something else, the fingerprints of a place are unmistakable. Perhaps this is the greatest triumph of world whisky – that you can be transported to almost anywhere on the planet through the aromas and flavours in a tasting glass. That’s what we’re achieving at M&H Distillery: a taste of Tel Aviv that showcases the colours and culture of Israel.
But how does a whisky take on the character of a place? How does it become so soaked in a certain geography that you can taste it? At every moment of whisky-making, from grain through to maturation, the spirit is steeped with a sense of its environment.
We are all products of our environment. For whisky, one of the factors that is most influential on the flavour and character of a whisky is the environment. Whether it’s hot or cool, dry or humid, even the altitude can have an enormous impact on distillation and maturation.
How? Let’s start with maturation. Whisky gets around 70% of its aroma and flavour – and 100% of its colour – from the cask it matures in. Barrels are watertight, but not airtight. This means they can ‘breathe’, drawing their liquid contents in and out of the wood. Over time, this changes the essence of the spirit.
In cooler climates, like Scotland, it can take a long time for the wood to make its mark. In warmer environments, like here in Israel, the heat accelerates the process. We enjoy 300 days of sunshine a year in Tel Aviv. Temperatures can exceed 38°C in the city. The process is so fast that casks that mature here can lose as much as 10% per year due to evaporation – also called the ‘angels’ share’. In Scotland, this is typically 2%.
But we don’t just mature our whisky in Tel Aviv. We have warehouses in five locations across Israel, each one with a different microclimate. The Sea of Galilee is humid and is in a very low altitude of 210 meters below sea level. The Jerusalem Mountains are cool, dry, and at an elevation of between 650-850 meters above sea level. The Desert is dry, so we lose more water in evaporation than alcohol. And finally, we age casks at The Dead Sea, 423 meters below sea level. It’s so dry and hot there, and we lose as much as 25% each year to the angels. But the resulting whisky is bold and powerful – unlike anything we’ve ever tasted.
Local ingredients and materials
Sometimes a sense of place comes from the ingredients and materials inherent to the whisky-making process. Where a distiller sources their barley, what type it is, and how it’s processed will all impact the final flavour. So too will cask type and what it previously held.
Let’s consider that maturation process. The spirit is drawn into the cask as it ‘breathes’. When it’s there, it picks up the character of the previous contents. It’s part alchemy, part science. And it shapes the very essence of a whisky.
We’re curious at M&H Distillery. And we’re meticulous. We source quality casks from all around the world – rum casks from Jamaica, Islay casks from Scotland, Cognac barrels from France. Each one, with the added ingredient of time, helps us craft a distinct whisky. But we also source from Israel, too.
We work with Israeli wineries to build layer upon layer of that sense of place. We’ve even used traditional pomegranate wine to season our casks. Our pursuit of flavour takes us to all corners of our country and beyond.
A maker’s mindset
There’s another powerful element of sense of place: the people who make the whisky. Mindset is everything – and so much of this comes from the community a distillery is nested within.
Our boldness is part of what makes M&H Distillery whiskies taste like they do. We were the first whisky distillery in Israel. We’re pioneering. We push the boundaries of process, driven by innovation. But we also have a reverence for tradition.
We make single malt according to Scotch whisky law. This means we exclusively use malted barley. We mash and ferment just like they do in Scotland. And we double-distil using copper pot stills. This is all before we exactingly mature our whisky for at least three years.
Perhaps the most influential of all when it comes to sense of place is the philosophy of the whisky-maker themselves. For us, that’s embedded in the principles of the late Dr. Jim Swan. The hot-climate whisky pioneer was our first master distiller, and he informed the processes we still use today. As a result, every single bottle, from our M&H Classic single malt, to our Elements series and even Apex expressions, tells the story of a place. Our place.
Social and environmental factors all intricately weave together to give every whisky a unique fingerprint. Each of our expressions carries the DNA of our makers, of Tel Aviv, and of Israel. Wherever you taste M&H whisky, you’ll be transported back to our little corner of the world.