Noam Cohen and Alan Cohl are confident that their new brand of American-style Whiskey will echo Israel’s success in making the desert bloom. They are creating Israel’s first American Whiskey distillery, hoping to trail blaze the Israeli whiskey palate and bring an added level of sophistication to the Israeli cocktail culture just starting to take off. Cohen and Cohl, Israeli immigrants from New Jersey and New York, respectively, are confident that their brand, Legends Distillery, will win the hearts and palates of Israel. According to the duo, they have the perfect recipe for success: pairing their tried and tested Whiskey recipe with Israel’s Biblical tourism industry.
According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, the number of licensed distilleries has more than tripled since 2012 in Kentucky, the traditional birthplace of bourbon. Israel is following in this unprecedented popularity. In Tel Aviv, the cocktail scene is gaining steam, with a summer Cocktail Festival in which many of the drinks use bourbon as a main ingredient. Jerusalem, too, boasts several world famous, award-winning cocktail bars. Some argue that the market for boutique liquor in Israel is flourishing even a little too much. A recent Haaretz article cited many market owners, Jerusalemites, and the deputy mayor, all who bemoaned the “opening of dozens of nighttime establishments” in the Mahane Yehuda market that has resulted in major changes that threaten the character of the market. To Cohen and Cohl, this is simply a testament to the growing sophistication of the Israeli palette, which thirsts for a quality product that they will produce.
Cohen says that not only is the market “ripe” for the rise of whiskey, but there are also many different aspects of whiskey making that find much more meaningful expression in Israel as compared to anywhere in the United States. He explains that the area of Israel in which Legends will be located has rich limestone naturally deionizes the water, has low iron content, and is therefore chemically suitable for American Whiskey production. While corn is not traditionally an Israeli grain, Cohen states, “we have farmland in an area where we will grow our own. The locally obtained water, Cohen says, will make for high quality, locally produced whiskey.
Legends has partnered with an award-winning distiller, whose proprietary aging process will allow production of a fine, high quality spirit in a small fraction of the time it would normally require.
Legends hope to augment Israel’s tourism industry by offering a product drawn from domestically harvested grains, and inspired by biblical legend. The distillery is planned to be located in the Ella Valley, which, next to the country’s main transportation artery, is the site of the Biblical story of David and Goliath as well as other tourist attractions. It is thus Cohen and Cohl’s hope that tour groups of all denominations and affiliations will “top off” their visit to the valley with a distillery tour.
Their product marketing draws upon Biblical themes. Legend’s flagship Whiskey, Slingshot, is a clear reference to the legendary battle between David and Goliath that took place a stone’s throw away from their location. Their branding fuses two images: a wagon wheel, an unmistakable symbol of the American drive to cultivate their new country, resting upon the trunk of an olive tree, an ancient symbol of perseverance and gritty determination. Fusing these two themes, Legends Distillery intends to help develop and expand the Israeli palette by bringing the same innovation and ingenuity employed by Israel’s early pioneers in making the desert bloom, to the exciting, nascent Israeli whiskey industry.
Legends Distillery intends to simultaneously market to Israeli and American consumers, while offering their facility and tasting room for corporate and social events, and connecting the distillery and product to the Bible and the land of Israel. It is their hope and expectation that tourists the world over will visit and enjoy, bring a bottle or two back to their countries of origin, and become brand ambassadors for Slingshot. Legends’ success will hinge upon its ability to “speak to” the Israeli consumer, by working with other producers in Israel to develop this burgeoning market, and Israeli culture, for the better.
Although Legend’s has already attracted private investment, they have launched a crowdfunding campaign for people to become involved in this exciting project.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” and “Israel Girl” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.