More Than Just Whiskey: A Tasting with the Golan Heights Distillery

Many of my friends and acquaintances are single-malt scotch drinkers. I am too, for that matter, and I have my likes and dislikes. But, as a purveyor of good tastes, I welcome new gustatory experiences that will broaden and deepen my understanding and appreciation of any food or drink. A liquor and spirits tasting, therefore, is just the thing.

Eli Poch, a good friend whom I’ve written about previously, is the proprietor of Kfar Hayayin, a wine and spirits shop located in the shopping center in Kfar Etzion. He recently hosted David Zibell, the owner of the Golan Heights Distillery at a tasting of several of his product offerings. The evening was attended by more than two dozen guests who eagerly anticipated tasting the array of bottles before them.

I could tell right away that David loved his craft. He first introduced his Israel-made whiskey to the market three years ago, and since then has expanded his product offering significantly. He spoke with knowledge and experience, with an undertone of affection for his products that are the hallmark of a craftsman who works with passion and love. This was backed up by his array of double gold, gold, and silver medals his distillery has been awarded for his various spirits, all well-deserved.

I didn’t love everything, but I didn’t expect otherwise. There were three products that stood out clearly as my favorites of the evening.

“Spicy H’ummus” Brewer’s Whiskey

This was the clear favorite of the tasting. Distilled from an unused batch of Passover chickpea (kitniyot) beer, this drink was just barely effervescent on the tongue, with deep and complex notes of woods and leather. A splash of water opened up an entirely different range of flavors. It was a clear favorite of the group. [Shame on you Eli for not having it in stock! ;-)]

Gold Label Arrack

Back before the government raised taxes to keep cheap alcohol out of the hands of minors, a friend and I had a running bet to see who could buy the cheapest arrack. Golan Distillery’s is quite the opposite. David used dates as the mash base, which gave the liquor a deep auburn color and deep sweetness. He blended several anise-flavored aromatics together to give his arrack its signature licorice flavor.

Snow Fairy Absinthe

Zwibell pulled out all of the stops for this product, including a replica of a 19th century ice water fountain used to drip water into the absinthe glasses, turning it milky-white. Swiss-style clear rather than French-style green (which he offers as well under the label Holy Spirit), this liqueur was already sweetened, so added sugar was unnecessary. The sweetness also kept the bitter notes of wormwood at bay, although a hint more would not have gone amiss; I suspect that preferences can be adjusted with water.

Honorable mention goes to his single malt Cask #10, which was a truly pleasant single malt for a young age. The gin that Zwibell presented was more strongly flavored than I prefer, and the chardonnay grappa (which he playfully calls “gaphna”) was interesting but not my thing. The brandy David offered was missing something to my palette, but others at the tasting found it quite appealing.

The venue is intimate, so I suggest reserving early the next time Eli advertises a tasting, so you can explore some of the finer choices of Israeli wine and spirits.

Editor’s note: I was a paying participant at the tasting. Thanks, Dad!



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