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Height Matters: How Elevation Affects the Aging of Liquor

Tending the mash at Milk & Honey Distillery / Photo by Shay Yehezkel

The Dead Sea, a salt-laden lake that borders Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, has the lowest land elevation on earth, sitting about 1,385 feet below sea level. You can’t get any lower without sinking into the ocean. It’s here that Tel Aviv-based Milk & Honey Distillery is experimenting with the impact of low elevation on aging whiskey.

“Extreme geography is our advantage,” says Milk & Honey Head Distiller Tomer Goren. “We are trying to play with this playground.”

Loosely defined as representing a sense of place, terroir has become part of the spirits producer’s tool kit, with greater attention paid to where raw ingredients are grown and barreled spirits are aged. Yet, elevation typically hasn’t been given much attention. That may change as a growing number of producers experiment with the effects of extreme altitudes—both high and low—to create spirits.

Barrel samples at Milk & Honey Distillery / Photo courtesy Milk & Honey Distillery

The impact can be particularly pronounced when it comes to barrel aging, pros say.

“There’s a lot of mystery and magic to barrel aging in general,” says Karen Hoskin, founder and owner of Montanya Distillers, which makes rum in the Colorado mountains at 8,800 feet above sea level. “For me, being at high elevation, one of the things that impacts how the flavor profile develops in a barrel has to do with the penetration of the liquid into the wood.”

However, she quickly notes, sheer elevation doesn’t do the job alone. It also impacts temperature, barometric pressure and humidity.

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