Spotlight On: Milk & Honey [in 2022]

It’s been four years [2018] since I last called in on Milk & Honey [WLP],

,… a time when Jim Swan’s STR program was in full swing.

JIM SWAN

Excerpt from MoM [by Ian Buxton]: ‘Starting in 1974 with the forerunners of today’s Scotch Whisky Research Institute he collaborated closely with more than twenty Scotch whisky distilleries. It was a unique ‘apprenticeship’ and introduction to the industry which is probably unrivalled and, during this period, working with Sheila Burtles, Paul Rickards and George Shortreed (the latter two both highly-regarded blenders), he developed the original flavour wheel. If he had done nothing else, he would be remembered for this alone‘.

In 1993, he became an owner-partner in R.R. Tatlock and Thomson, the well-known technical consultancy and, in 2002, branched out on his own to offer his services to spirit producers worldwide. And he was in high demand.  From Scotland to Taiwan, Israel to Latin America, he criss-crossed the globe trouble-shooting, advising new distilleries and cooperages (he was, above all, an expert on every aspect of wood) and serving on leading competition judging panels.  His clients – those that can be mentioned, because the work was often commercially sensitive – are a roll-call of the most distinguished companies across the spirits industry‘.

Distilleries Jim collaborated with include:

SCOTLAND [in no particular order]:

Kilchoman, Annandale, Daftmil [SW], Clydeside, Kingsbarns, Nc’nean, and Lindores [Jim’s last project].

WORLD [in no particular order]:

Kavalan [Taiwan], Amrut [India], Milk & Honey [Israel], Dublin Whiskey Distillery [Ireland], Cotswolds [England], The London Distillery [England], St George’s [England], Penderyn [Wales], Virginia Distillery Company [US], Victoria Caledonian [Canada].

Following his death came a Jim Swan Award for Services to Scotch Whisky. The first ‘Unsung Heroes’ Award in 2021 went to Sheila Burtles.

FURTHER READING

  • scotchwhisky,com ”,… the ultimate whisky troubleshooter’, his roots lay in Scotch, but he shared his expertise and encouragement with distilleries all over the world‘.
  • whiskyadvocate – From his birth on Christmas Day 1941 to his sudden death at home on Valentine’s Day 2017.
  • whiskycast: ‘The Single Malt Whisperer’, Jim was a guest on the very first episode of WhiskyCast in 2005, appearing again on Dec 28th 2014 [WC].
  • whiskyfoundation – ‘The Einstein of Whisky’
  • herlandscotland – During the late 1980s and 1990s, Dr Swan’s focus switched to investigating how to optimise the seasoning and toasting of the oak to make the best casks and improve whisky quality. With Glenmorangie, he pioneered some of the earliest experiments into whisky finishing, the process of enhancing a mature whisky by transferring it to a second cask.
  • whisky.com – ‘The whisky world lost one of its greatest specialists’

Malt Whisky Yearbook says of Milk & Honey: ‘Equipped with a 1-ton stainless steel mash tun, four stainless steel washbacks, and two copper stills [with the capacity of 9000 and 3500 litres each]. The current production is 200,000 litres of pure alcohol while the capacity is 8000,000. The first distillation was in March 2015 and in February 2016, the first in-house whisky production took place. The first, limited 3-year-old single malt, made before the final equipment was installed, was released in August 2017‘.

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Tonight’s CYWL-hosted tasting is presented by the new face of M&H, Shilton Almeida,…

,… who only said India instead of Israel once all night. Fair play. He was the face of Paul John for how many years?

Tonight we taste whisky from M&H’s Elements and Apex ranges, finishing with a UK-exclusive single cask release.

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To understand Milk & Honey in 2022 is to understand its core base recipe – 75% refill bourbon and 25% STR [red-wine casks predominantly]. The Elements range builds upon M&H’s ‘classic’ core base through additional cask finishes and the like.

Natural colour? Check! Non-chill filtered? Check! 46% [or higher]? Check! Age statements [or distillation/bottling dates], even when just three years old? Check!

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Milk & Honey Elements Red Wine Cask [2022] 03yo Ob. 46% WB80.92[74] tRW2/5

  • N: Fluffy/chalky/creamy banana, a just-so gingery spiciness,… all sorts. Very colourful and chatty overall and with an illusion of greater age.
  • T: Chalky barley sugar, the spice again subtle yet lingering, [red wine] tannic in part [no problem].
  • F: A fair chewiness if a touch gacky,…. some spearmint and aniseed,… Early stages of form development.
  • C: I keep returning to the nose. Wow, and at just 3 years old! Other contenders in the same ballpark that spring to mind include Arran’s Amarone [WLP85] and Mackmyra’s Skordetid [WLP85]. All highly recommended.

Scores 85 points

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Milk & Honey Elements Sherry Cask [2022] 03yo Ob. 46% WB82.50[123] WF80[2020]

On top of M&Hs ‘classic’ base [50%], this one sees an additional 50% oloroso/PX ‘element’.

  • N: A quieter/more reserved even astringent nose in comparison to the talkative red wine Element, drier if nuttier, and a savoury/sweet citrus as if between oloroso and palo cortado than oloroso and PX.
  • T: Remains somewhat astringent though salivating, and well managed to come across as un-managed, yes?
  • F: Cocoa barley sugar on top of a greasy textural mouthfeel. 
  • C: If this style could mature, we could have something very special. Impressive as is. Very classy for such a young one.

Scores 84 points

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Two drams in and the nattering begins, some about mixing cola or soda with whisky, some of a more unsavoury nature seldom witnessed in any whisky arena I’ve been in. Shilton draws a line under the situation by announcing ‘never mix politics with whisky’. Viv replies with: ‘I think adding soda to whisky is worse’.

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Milk & Honey Elements Peated [2022] 03yo Ob. 46% WB81.60[69] WF75[2020]

On top of M&Hs ‘classic’ core, this ‘element’ contains 25% peated malt [spirit] aged in ex-bourbon casks and 25% matured in ex-Islay casks – specifically Laphroaig and Ardbeg.  

  • N: With a red-wine sweetness, the subtlety of the smoke leaves the spirit more exposed.
  • T: Smokier on the palate, the peated element combos are working well together.
  • F: There’s certainly a ‘blended’ quality to this, but at 46%, it retains body/weight,… and a gluey chew with water. 
  • C: Popular on the night, a nicely rounded cuvee-styled smoked whisky best not scrutinised too closely. Microscopes away, this is an excellent session dram, certainly.

Scores 85 points

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THOUGHTS SO FAR

Since my first outing with Milk & Honey in 2018, we are seeing ‘Swan & beyond’. Key highlights include:

  • Commendable maturity of form at such a young age.
  • The utilisation/integration of wine and sherry without dominating the spirit.
  • Despite progressive cask management, the whisky is spirit-faithful and textural too.
  • Maintaining the ‘classic’ core base helps establish and retain a distillery theme/character throughout the range[s].
  • Overall, great examples of competent young whisky, understated, straight-forward,… tasty.

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We’ve covered the Elements. It’s time to hit the Apex

Milk & Honey 2018/2021 03yo Ob. Apex Batch #10 ‘Dead Sea [btl #1/4892] 56.2% WB86.10[43] WN87 WoW8.7

This is M&H’s 10th Apex but their first Dead Sea release. Over to WoW, who says ‘The experiment began in October 2018, when M&H Distillery placed 20 ex-bourbon, ex-red wine, and ex-STR casks on the rooftop of a hotel in the Dead Sea area. They sat at approximately 423 meters (1,387 feet) below sea level‘. The recipe here consists of the ‘classic’ core base plus 25% bourbon and 25% STR [so more of the same], This batch is made up of 4-5 of those casks suggesting there are more Dead Sea’s to come.

  • N: Whilst I begin my nasal observations modestly [and generally keeping my note-taking to a minimum, tonight], the Foz is waxing lyrical with descriptors. The man is on fire! “Like 25yo whisky”, suggests Shilton. ‘Industrial coastal tones’ is all I noted.
  • T: Whilst there is a likeness to a far maturer whisky on the nose, youthfulness shows on the palate. And it is salty! A salty bourbon if you will with more [Deanston-esque] banana notes and a lactose-y STR character coming through once again [a la, the red wine Element].
  • F: Sustains its bourbon-y and > banana-y character.
  • C: In two words, Israeli bourbon.

Scores 85 points

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Milk & Honey 2017/2022 03yo Ob. Apex Rum Cask Batch #004 [1420 bts] 57.3% WB80.50[7]

  • N: Heart-of-Trewlawny stuff, this funky agricole-esque nose is made up of five rum casks – one from Cuba, the other four from Jamaica.
  • T: It’s a fun one for sure, one that splits the room. Inevitably, there are age-old discussions over whether this is really whisky or not. The Foz begins philosophising, Viv rejects it, others want to know where they can buy a bottle with immediate effect.
  • F: Whatever happened in the middle there, we do eventually make our way back to barley sugar.
  • C: I see only positivity here when a spirit leads to this sort of healthy discussion, especially when the distillery can back up these wackier experiments with a solid core range.

Scores,… no clue!

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Last up, we’ve a UK-exclusive – not always a positive indicator in recent years. This single cask release is from a fortified red wine cask = port.

Milk & Honey 2018/2021 03yo Ob. Fortified Red Wine Single Cask #2018-0553 [btl #317/361] 66.5% WB86[1]

  • N: Starting with plasticized prunes and mint into tarragon, a char level [x3] brings meaty sticky ribs to the table. 
  • T: We’ve a clean coppery delivery, the cask integrated with the spirit, but is there anything behind the arrival? It doesn’t swim too well either.
  • F: Remains a faultless fresh grain-like whisky,.. but I find it a little lacking. 
  • C: I keep wavering over this one because the standards have been unexpectedly high this evening.

Scores 82 points

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OVERALL CONCLUSIONS

  • A most pleasing ‘renewed acquaintance’ of Milk & Honey who were off to a good start and have since stepped up considerably = ‘Swan & Beyond’.
  • Whisky distilling in Tel Aviv is a first for Israel. M&H is making great whisky and making it the right way. Furthermore, it’s affordable and available [in the UK].

Of tonight’s attendees were veterans alongside first-timers, those who have the t-shirt, and those who weren’t sure they even liked whisky. It turns out, after tonight, we all like whisky!

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With thanks to Shilton and CYWL. Further reading: M&H

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END

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