April 2015
Stephen Rubin

Apologies to all for the lack of posting! Since the end of January, my schedule has been completely packed, and it’s been impossible to even find a few minutes for the necessary office time.  Yesterday, my business parter and co-founder of “Finjan: Israel Unfiltered”, Ariel Lasman and myself – along with our good friend and Times of Israel journalist, Ilan Ben Zion, headed up north to dig deeper into the growing trend of distilling in the Western Galilee.  For some reason to which we still do not have an exact answer, there is a massive concentration of folks producing alcohol of different varieties up in the Western Galilee.  The area itself provides a model of coexistence between Israel’s myriad of cultures and the conclusion seems to be that alcohol production – and consumption – is the driving force behind this.  Obviously, this is the classic answer that the distillers are giving and the truth lies somewhere between this and the unique heterogeneous make-up of the area, but sometimes, when something works…it’s best not to question it.

So here is a look at our day.

We got an early start and were out of Tel Aviv by 06:30 heading up the coastal highway and then inland to Bir el-Muksar, a Bedouin village inland from the coast in the Lower Galilee.  This really had nothing to do with our plan, but as you’ll see from the photo…a company called Finjan (as we call ourselves) could not pass up the early-morning photo opp. with the world’s largest Finjan and bag of coffee.  Shfaram, across the highway from Bir el-Muksar is the headquarters of Nahle Coffee.
After a few solid photo shots and delicious pastries from the local bakery, we headed up to Beit Haemek kibbutz, just north of Kfar Yasif to Jullius Distillery to meet with Yuval ‘Joov’ Hargil, Israel’s first and only marketed distiller of Grappa – or as he prefers to call it – Eau de Vin. When you drink Joov’s product, you know you are sipping a bit of ingenuity.  The man is a magician, artist and scientist all together and his product will turn non-Grappa lovers into fans of the product.  This shouldn’t be a surprised considering the success he and his brothers have had in the culinary business (his brothers are the owners of the Minzar and Basta in Tel Aviv).  I am in by no means an expert in Grappa production, but I do know that my palette was never attuned to enjoying it – this changed everything.
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After the visit with ‘Joov’, we headed up to Mi’elya, one of only two purely Christian villages in Israel.  With the dwindling number of Christians across the Middle East, its refreshing and inspiring to see such a successful community in Israel’s north that has been able to hang on to its traditions and familial life style despite the constant changes in the region.  We met with Wadia Hadid, one of two brothers, who owns Arak Masada, a fairly new Arak distillery that is producing some of the best anise-flavored spirits around. Their love for producing Arak ties into the upbringing and the generations-old tradition of Arak consumption amongst the local non-Muslim populations across Lebanon, Syria and Israel’s Western Galilee.  They’ve taken an old tradition and added a start-up flavor to the brand.  Today, Masada Arak is producing 3 different varieties of Arak, each suited to a different palette.
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We finished up the day (Day 1 at least) at the creme de la creme of the north – Savida – in Akko.  Savida features the best fish and seafood flavors around and is one of the only places where people will find a number of these different brands of alcohol featured in the restaurant.  Located in the city’s Turkish Bazaar, Savida is quaint and far away from the normal tourist traps in the city.  Chef Dan Smulovitz is not afraid to use bold and powerful flavors in the food and knows exactly how to cook the perfect piece of fish and how to turn an average, low cost fish into a delicacy.  Savida uses a wooden-coaled oven and is located in what used to be a bakery during the Ottoman period.
Day 2 is next Sunday….more to come