In Beit Shemesh, Israel is where master distillers Noam Cohen and Alan Cohl launched Legends, their boutique bourbon-style whiskey distillery, three years ago after undergoing stringent training in distilling techniques with some of America’s best experts.
“We bring American tradition with a bit of Israeli innovation,” said Cohen, who moved to Israel 10 years ago. “What is a legend? It is taking something and making it a bit better.”
A fourth-generation American, Cohen grew up hearing his grandfather tell tales from his childhood of midnight visitors to his tenement apartment in the 1920s during Prohibition as his father sold bootleg liquor to speakeasies.
“It kind of gets into your blood,” Cohen said. Cohl, who has been in Israel for 30 years, came to bourbon a bit later.
Their label sports an old wagon wheel together with an olive tree as symbols of both the gritty American and Israeli pioneering traditions. Their flagship product, Slingshot, has, naturally, a slingshot on its label. Other planned products will be similarly named hinting at the biblical location of the distillery.
Legends created its own unique recipe using small domestic grains, and a detail-oriented aging and mellowing process. The whiskey is aged for three years in old white American oak barrels previously used by surrounding wineries for aging wine, rather than in new white American oak barrels as is the required process in the US. The barrels are duly charred—double the level used in the US in whiskey production.
Legends whiskey has “a complex spirit you that you don’t find in US bourbon,” said Cohen.
For a few technical reasons, they do not call their product “bourbon,” one of them being that it is made in Israel and not in the United States. They decided to call it “Kentucky whiskey” because most people know that Kentucky whiskey is bourbon.
Just as other immigrants brought their traditional alcoholic drinks, such as Arak, to Israel, making it part of the local culture, they want to celebrate their American culture, said Cohen, while making it Israeli.
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