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CAPTURING THE LIGHT FROM A SWORD: ROY RIACHI MAKES WHISKEY IN LEBANON


The distiller and his still


Nestled in the mountainous region of Metn, at an altitude of around 1100m, the Lebanese village of Khenchara promises not only breathtaking scenery and delicious food, but small batch craft whiskeys made onsite at Riachi Winery and Distillery, where eighth generation vintner and distiller Roy Riachi maintains the Lebanese tradition of amphora aged spirits. Aged in terracotta vats of the kind most of us have only seen in museums, one knows immediately upon tasting these whiskeys that they are something quite out of the ordinary. If whiskeys are a product of the culture, geography, climate and traditions from whence they came, I can think of no better example of a world whiskey displaying those uniquely singular attributes than the whiskey made by Riachi. Roy walked me through the fascinating history of distilled spirits in the Arab world and how he is firmly invested in culturally and historically relevant production practices. My eye opening interview with him truly inspired me to reconsider what a whiskey can be.

BST: Roy, should people be surprised that whiskey is being made in Lebanon? And what are some of the misconceptions people may have about whiskey being distilled in the Middle East?


Riachi: Well, first of all, thank you for hosting me and I'm very happy to be here with you on this call.


BST: Likewise!


Riachi: So generally people conflate two ideas, Arabism or basically the Arab world, with Islam. You know, the Islamic religion generally has a temperance tendency whereby alcohol is generally frowned upon, it's not explicitly prohibited. So the Arab world does have a couple of dry states, the most famous of which is Saudi Arabia. However, the majority of the Arab world is not a dry area, and alcohol is regularly consumed, and is part of the culture. So even in basically the Western part of the Arab world, mostly Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine..those areas that were directly colonized by the French and the British, they also have this perception, as in the rest of the Western world, that the West brought winemaking and distillation to the area. Whereas, if you think about it, if you look at the history, it's the other way around! The culture of pre-Arab, basically before the Arab world... the culture came out of the cradle of civilization, mainly Mesopotamia, through what was called Phoenicia, which was the Eastern Mediterranean coast, into the European and North African Coasts, almost three to four thousand years ago, whereas spirits distillation, as you know, is more recent.


So it went out of the Arab world in particular, roughly in the twelfth century. The first record of distilled spirits was in the medical school of Salerno, Italy, in the twelfth century, if I'm not mistaken. And the main reason it popped up there is that Salerno was one of those scientific hubs in Europe in the Middle Ages, and secondly, it was very close to Sicily. Sicily at that time was part of the Arab Empire which was called the Abbasid Caliphate then.


BST: So interesting!


Riachi: It spanned basically from the year 700 to the year 1300. Spain as well was part of the Arabic Empire. So yes, distillation went out of the Arab world into the rest of the world and there was no temperance movement or prohibition even under other empires. For example, the Ottoman Empire, people think that there was prohibition under it, which spanned basically from the year 1500 to the 1900's. It fell with its defeat in the first world war. There was no temperance even though it was an Islamic Empire, the consumption of alcohol was regular. In Turkey they have something called Raki, and Raki is basically a variant of distillate made in the Levant (Mainly Lebanon and Syria) called Arak, which is basically wine distilled with green anise. So you know, it has an herbal, anisette taste to it.


BST: Fascinating.


Riachi: So back to your question I guess, is it surprising that whiskey in particular is distilled in Lebanon? In that sense, yes, because whiskey, as in something that is distilled from cereal grains and aged in Oak, is a fairly Western spirit. So people that are used to drinking traditional whiskey like Scotch whiskeys or even Bourbons might find this interesting, but I guess with the movement or the rise of the single malt category, that kind of opened up new doors into world whiskies. Especially when Jim Murray highlighted the Japanese whiskey industry in his Whiskey Bible, I think in the early 2000's. I guess for that reason we owe a huge deal of gratitude to Japanese whiskey makers for doing that for other world whiskies.


BST: World Whiskies are certainly gaining a lot of popularity right now. I get a lot of requests for tastings with whiskey from Australia and Denmark, you know, especially the Stauning. I'm from a Finnish background and they're also making great whiskies there, which a lot of people would never have thought of.


Roy, tell our readers about your family history, which is so fascinating. Please walk us through that story and explain what inspired you to go from being a wine maker to distilling whiskey?


Riachi: Distillation was always part of our family business, and it's been around for almost eight generations. Since its inception, we've produced the traditional Lebanese wines and with the passage of time, a more Western style of dry wines, but also since the beginning, we've distilled Arak, so distillation has always been part of the family business for around 100 years or more now, because my great grandfather started moving towards Western spirits, mainly Brandy. The way Arak is made is very similar to the way Brandy is made, minus the barrel aging. So basically, Brandy is wine that is double distilled. With Arak, you take the double distilled spirit and then distill it one more time with anise, rested in clay.


Riachi Winery



BST: Got it.


Riachi: So for that reason, it was pretty easy to do this transition. That being said, there were several inspirations that led me into whiskey making. The first is that I started getting into single malts at a fairly young age. In Lebanon, the legal drinking age is eighteen, so it's a bit lower than in the U.S. For some reason, I got directly into single malt whiskies. I didn't start the trajectory by going into blended scotch, and didn't even like whiskey before I got into the single malts! Once I started drinking those, it led me to appreciation of blends and other styles of whiskies. I started reading up on the single malt industry and I saw that the copper pot still was typically used, the gooseneck still, which was very similar to the still we were using for the Arak. And since we have a fairly broad portfolio when it comes to different types of drinks, our set up, the way the winery and distillery is set up helps me experiment with different types of products with more ease. For example, we have three heated or jacketed mixing tanks. Okay? So those were really easy to turn into mash tuns. So that was one of our main inspirations. And secondly, Lebanon is more of a spirit consuming country than a wine consuming country. So every other person you meet in Lebanon is probably a home distiller. Most people home distill their own Arak.


BST: And that's legal?


Riachi: Home distillation is perfectly legal in Lebanon.


BST: When can I move there?


Riachi: (Laughs) A lot of people distill their own stuff. So you won't see a lot of Arak sales, but you do see a lot of whiskey sales, for example. Blended Scotch is a huge part of the drinking culture in Lebanon. I would say probably number one would be Arak, number two would be whiskey, and then number three would be beer. So there is a market for for it. Brown spirits tend to fetch a higher price and they're a higher value item than wine. From an economical perspective, it made more sense to look into exploring whiskey... So being the first whiskey distillery in Lebanon also has a nice ring to it.


BST: Great story. So when did you see the culture in Lebanon shifting from Arak to whiskey drinking?



Chilled Arak with water


Riachi: It hasn't shifted. Arak has always been a part of the culture and will remain so. So for example, Arak is more of an aperitif because it's not consumed neat. It's watered down generally at one part Arak and two parts water. So the strength is almost wine strength. When you water it down, it becomes about..betwen 13 and 18% alcohol by volume. So it's fairly mild, it's fairly refreshing. It's kind of had as an aperitif and it's consumed with food. Whereas whiskey on the other hand, it's more of a social drink. People drink it on social occasions, they drink it at bars. So it's not really paired with food as much as Arak, which you rarely see people drinking without food.


BST: Oh, I see. And are there Lebanese whiskey clubs and societies like in the U.S?


Riachi: Yeah, so in Lebanon, it's kind of like the cigar clubs double as whiskey clubs.


BST: Okay, makes sense...


Riachi: So yeah, I don't know of a whiskey club in and of itself, but whiskey does have its own following: You tend to see the same faces every time there is a master class or tasting, and if you want to put that in the framework of a whiskey club, that would probably qualify. But for the most part it's the cigar clubs that double as whiskey clubs.


BST: So let's shift gears for a moment and talk about your production process, which I am super curious about. How did you learn to distill? Was it just kind of a natural progression because you had the setup for the winery and you had the stills? And did you read about distilling whiskey before actually trying it yourself? How did you start doing that?


Riachi: Well yes, it's kind of two ways, basically. The first part is basically apprenticeship with the family. So my father taught me distillation and most of the principles. And the second part is definitely reading up on different practices from two different perspectives. Basically from a production perspective, so, how certain distilleries are distilling their own whiskey or other spirits. And from the other part, it's more of the scientific perspective, because, you know, distillation is technically a chemical process of separating different azeotropic liquids. Chemical engineering. Yeah, a part of it was academic, reading up on things, and the other part was apprenticeship.


BST: And were these Lebanese books you were reading, Roy? Or where were those books from ...?


Riachi: Generally, books from all over the world. I think the first book I read on whiskey was actually by Michael Jackson, if I'm not mistaken.


BST: Okay, interesting! So what kind of stills do you use for your whiskey? They're pot stills, I'm assuming...


Riachi: we have a copper pot still, which is very similar to the gooseneck still. However, it doesn't have an onion in the column, and it has a worm tub..it has a fairly long worm tub.


BST: How long are your fermentations?


Riachi: So for the whiskey in particular, it ranges between 48 to 74 hours. Okay, we do a short fermentation for the whiskey.


BST: Roy, one of the things I'm most fascinated about with what you are doing is the whole thing with using clay amphoras. Such a large percentage of the final taste in American and Scotch whiskey comes from its interaction with the Oak barrels. The whiskey and the wood are sort of breathing in and out together over time, expanding and contracting and certain things are being extracted to the flavor and others added, over time. So I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the clay because.. is it as porous? and the way you use Lebanese Oak staves in the liquid... could you elaborate?


Whiskey resting in clay amphoras


Riachi: So wer'e talking bout Athyr here in particular, which is basically our terroir whiskey, as in, the oak and barley are Lebanese. So the entire flavor profile is reflected from the Lebanese terroir. Okay, so, in Lebanon, most forest trees are protected by law. You cannot really cut down forest trees, and oak trees in particular are prohibited from cutting down, but you are allowed to prune. So you can cut the branches.


BST: I had no idea!


Riachi: So what we do is we cut down the branches, we debark them, we cure them, we toast them, and then we put them in the clay amphora. We chose clay amphora because we borrowed this aging method from Iraq, basically. So amphoras are, as you might know, very ancient vessels that have been used for a very long time and yes, they are quite porous. The evaporation rate of a clay amphora is sometimes higher than a barrel, depending on the ambient temperature and how you seal it. So mostly, the amphora itself is porous and also the cap on top. The traditional way of closing them in Lebanon is usually with a leather cap, which is another breathable membrane.


So it's a porous vessel which... the main reason they age Arak in it is if you have any volatile compounds that are not desirable in your distillate, if you rest them long enough in the amphora, they would evaporate. Secondly, the clay does impart an earthy character to the whiskey itself, or to the spirit itself. Amphora aged Arak for example is herbal and slightly earthy. Ahtyr in particular, is also, you know, woody, but the earthy character comes from the amphora aging itself. Because it's kind of a signature taste in Athyr. Almost all of them, irrelevant of wether it's aged in Lebanese Oak or double aged in Lebanese Oak and Cedar wood, your'e going to get this earthy character to it.


BST: And how do you cure the branches?


Riachi: So we air season them for between one and two years. They have to be sun-dried. Then we toast them.


BST: Right. And I was just going to ask you what the qualities of Quercus Libani (Lebanese Oak) are, as compared with say, American (Quercus Alba) or French Oak (Quercus Robur)?


Riachi: In terms of flavor, they have a more syrupy and chocolatey quality. Also some caramel and vanilla similar to French and American, but muted. Lebanese Oak imparts way more molasses notes.


BST: Very interesting!


Riachi: Yeah, because the American Oak has a lot of lactones and they produce a lot of vanilla, that luscious vanilla taste you get in bourbon. And the French Oak has more tannin so you get like a drier feel, almost resiny. The most resiny wood is of course, the Cedar, which is extremely powerful. It's extremely aromatic and you have to be quite careful with it. You can easily overage your whiskey in Cedar! But again, you can only cut down fruit bearing trees, because the idea is that every decade or so, people replant them.


Because of the war (the Civil War in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990) there was a lot of corruption and in general, there was a loss of nearly 30% of the forests in Lebanon. So that's why there are laws about even building. Most areas are forested areas, the zoning laws are like, if you want to build in such an area, you can only build over 1% of the land. So the laws were enforced to reform the forestry practices and how the zoning laws were basically managing civilization and the forests around them.


BST: Can you remind me which of your whiskeys has the cedar?


Riachi: Athyr, with the Cedar finish.



The mythical Lebanese Cedar


BST: And the barley you use, where is that from?


Riachi: We use barley from the Bekaa Valley for the Athyr. The Bekaa Valley makes up almost 30% of the Lebanese landmass. All kinds of crops grow there and the two most prevalent cereal grains that are grown are durum wheat and barley. If I'm not mistaken, it's six row barley, the thinner variant.


BST: And what motivated you to sun dry it?


Riachi: I will share with you: so Lebanese barley in particular is used for Semolina. They do Semolina flour with it. I thought of sun drying it for multiple reasons. The first was practical because I didn't have a peat kiln and I couldn't air kiln them. I didn't have the equipment for it. You know, the most basic and primitive way of drying malt is sun drying. If you look at the history of malted barley, malt was a food source for 10,000 years. So when it was that, they were sun drying the barley... and even in other regions of the world, that was how they dried their barley, so it was fairly easy. Also when it comes to, what do you call it, we have many other foods that are sun dried in Lebanon. Okay? So there's wheat which is sun dried, there's a food called kishk ,also sun dried. So it kind of made sense and felt culturally relevant to do it that way. And secondly, it preserves the cereal notes. More than if you were to peat or air dry the barley.


BST: Necessity is the mother of invention! Roy, is there peat in Lebanon?


Riachi: we do have wetlands. Part of the Bekaa Valley is called Amid. They have wetlands and peat bogs as well.


BST: It would be really interesting to see what a peated whiskey from Lebanon tastes like!


Riachi: We actually don't have peated barley, what we have is something called, the name translated into English is kind of funny, it's called freekeh. It's basically a roasted and smoked durum wheat.


BST: Oh freekeh, yes, i know what that is. I think I might even have some in my cupboard: I love it.


Riachi : So this is basically roasted and smoked durum wheat.


BST: Oh, okay, intersting.


Riachi: So they roast them and smoke them in order for them not to germinate because they're still green.


BST: I see. So interesting. So you're formerly a wine person and you still make wine, yes? So there's a pretty hotly debated topic in whiskey. People are always arguing about this these days, which is the issue of whiskey having terroir. Does whiskey have terroir, Roy?


Riachi: Well, there's provenance vs terroir...


BST: Exactly! So I mean, I have friends who are whiskey authors and stuff who are just adamantly like, no, absolutely not, whiskey is a process and has a lot to do with human intervention and they have really, really strong feelings about it. And then you have people like the gentleman that's doing Waterford Whiskey in Ireland, you know, really specifically using these Irish local grains and stuff like that to create terroir driven whiskies. What's your opinion about that?


Riachi: Okay, so I do have two different brands. I have Levant Heights and Athyr. I do call it a terroir whiskey, whereas Levant Heights is not a terroir whiskey because we don't restrict ourselves to the types of barleys or cereal grains that we're using or the barrels or the oak that we're using. So the idea of provenance would apply to that whiskey. So let's take a step back. The idea of terroir comes from wine. So terroir is a French word which means de la terre, as in from the earth. It's fairly simple, easy. If your raw materials that are producing the flavor profile are from a single origin or from a single terroir, then you can call it a terroir whiskey. Whereas if it wasn't, then it's not a terroir whiskey. So why I might say that Athyr is a terroir, and the oak itself is from Lebanon, which makes it from a single terroir. So it reflects the land in the glass. Now, and even when it comes to provenance, if you think about wine, wine also is quite laborious.


So viticulture, how you're planting the grapes, how you prune the vines, how you basically manage your vineyard, does impact the wine. But if you have an excellent grape and bad vinification practices, then you're going to end up with bad wine. So provenance is present also in wine. And it is present in whiskey. So really for me, simply if you are tasting a particular terroir in your whiskey, if the ingredients are from a specific terroir then it's a terroir whiskey. And I would understand why most whiskey authors argue against it because most whiskeys, 99.9% of those whiskeys, aren't of a single origin. They don't have their raw materials from a single terroir. So, for example, Scotch whiskeys, most of their barrels are sourced from the US and they might have different terroirs within Scotland itself.


BST: Sure, sure, yeah. So I love the tasting notes on your webpage. This is a subject of great interest to me, especially the idea of global whiskeys and the global palate. So I grew up eating certain foods and smelling certain things and those things are part of my consciousness, which is part of my palate. So it's always interesting to me to talk to a Scottish distiller and he'll say, oh, you know, there are notes of thick cut marmalade and barley sugar candy and just things that he grew up with, right? And there's one of the tasting notes, I think, that you mentioned on your web page, which is really not typical at all, which is to hear a carob flavor note mentioned. I've never heard, I don't think I've ever heard someone mention carob, and I thought that was so interesting because it must be, it's because of your culture, yes?


Riachi: 100%. So when I was mentioning the main difference between Lebanese oak and American and French oak, I mentioned that it's more syrupy or molasses tasting versus American oak. What I meant in particular is carob molasses. Because you know, carob molasses has kind of like an earthy, chocolatey taste to it. So, and really a lot of people actually use it as a chocolate substitute. Right, right. So, that's why, you know, in Lebanon, basically if you're saying molasses, it's either grape molasses or a kind of carob molasses.


BST: How interesting.


Riachi: Yeah, because those are the two local variants of molasses that are produced in Lebanon.


BST: So the other thing I wanted to ask you about which is a common in tasting notes for whiskey is baking spices, right? So baking spices in the U.S, the spices that we are familiar with in the U.S. are different. So what are the spice notes that might emerge, if any, in one of your whiskeys? What kind of spices are you smelling and thinking about in Lebanon?


Riachi: When I think of baking spices in particular, I think of, obviously vanilla is one of them. But if you want the spices that are more, you know, relevant to Lebanese cuisine might be, what do you call it, mastic, for example. Mastic is used quite a lot in Lebanon. Also, what else? Nutmeg is used a lot. Cardamom. You know, it's one of those umbrella terms when you say baking spices. It can be many things. So it really depends on the whiskey that we're talking about. And to my mind, when I'm, I think one of the whiskeys that you might be thinking of that I produce is the single pot still, the malt and wheat. Right. So in that whiskey in particular, it does have hints of mastic. It has kind of like incense as well and definitely vanilla and maybe it's a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg and maybe a bit of licorice root as well. And what is the mastic tree? It's very famous in the Mediterranean basin and the most famous country for producing mastic is Greece.



The flowering Mastic tree


BST: Okay, interesting. And what about flowers, and flowery notes? I wrote down... I'm looking at my tasting notes from one of your whiskeys that I had at a tasting and I wrote down honeysuckle. I got like a really light whiff of honeysuckle, which is just, you know It's just, to me, one of the prettiest smells out there.


Riachi: I'm not that familiar, I know of honeysuckle, but I'm really not that familiar with the smell of honeysuckle. So when I say floral notes, this is, you know, the subjective element of tasting. I get more chamomiles, for example, and hints of jasmine.


BST: So can you explain the term empyreumatic, which you use on your website tasting notes? I think that's the first time I've heard that used in this way...


Riachi: Empyreumatic notes are kind of like toasted notes. Basically coffee or roasted coffee beans, charred toast, are all empyreumatic notes.


BST: We get a lot of those in your... Dark Malt and wheat whiskey, which I love. Oh my God, I'd written down, you know, coffee with cream and dark toasted rye bread. I just really love your whiskey so much. Are you educating people about food pairing at all, or do you think that's something that people will eventually start thinking about with Lebanese whiskey? Because I think it's almost a perfect candidate for that.


Riachi: Yeah. So we do a lot of workshops and masterclasses. And we've been also doing the whiskey pairing, so we generally pair the lineup of whiskeys that we produce with different kinds of cold cuts and cheese.


BST: Nice, very nice. Are you familiar with Balvenie? Yeah. Balvenie did this great event at a French restaurant called La Marchande in New York city recently where it was whiskey paired with pastries. I could see your whiskies paired with baklava!


Riachi: We did actually a similar event in summer. We did at the Hilton in Beirut. We did a food and whiskey pairing in August. We paired our whiskeys with, like each whiskey was paired with two different kinds of food prepared by the Hilton. So, it also was interesting. People were quite surprised that pairings could go so well, like food pairings could go so well with whiskey.


BST: Right, right. They really, really do. So, last but not least, can you explain, I was looking into the meaning of the word Athyr and there are pages and pages of these super interesting definitions. There were two meanings that I looked up. One was Athyr was an Egyptian goddess of the night and therefore the hidden cause of all things. I think that was really interesting! And another one was for a boy's name, which means "the light reflecting from a sword, or the radiance of the unsheathed sword" which is certainly a beautiful descriptor for a whiskey. Can you tell us how that applies to your philosophy about whiskey, if it does at all? Sure. Because it's such a great story.


BST: Arabic in particular is a very descriptive language. So, a single word can have really a plethora of meanings. And Athyr in particular is one of those words, and it is the predecessor of the word ether and ethereal. So the first meaning is basically otherworldly as in out of this world. One of them is the radiance of the unsheathed sword. Another is basically means "the most premium." So when you say like cream of the crop for example in English... When you say athyr in Arabic it means something which is very premium. It has really many other meanings, but those three meanings in particular, I found them to be quite relevant to the whiskey that I wanted to produce, and that's why I chose the name.


The other is that it's quite simple and easy to memorize and it's not that difficult for non-Arabic speakers to pronounce. I like short words that are very descriptive.


BST: Beautiful choice. So, what's next for you, Roy, in terms of maybe new whiskeys in your portfolio? How are you seeing the future of your whiskeys looking right now?


Riachi: We're still producing a fairly small amount of whiskey, for example. I think Athyr in particular, since we've released our brand in 2019, probably sold, don't quote me exactly on it, but in Lebanon alone, it's about, if I'm not mistaken, somewhere around 1,000 bottles, plus or minus, give or take. And in the US alone, it's about 900 bottles. South Korea, it's about 600 bottles. About 150 bottles in Jordan, 60 bottles in Norway. So it's a fairly small batch whisky, very small batches. So, and we're definitely looking forward to scaling it up. But even if we're available in many markets around the world, it will always remain a small batch limited release whiskey. Whereas with our Levant range, you know, when you incorporate barrel aging, traditional barrel aging, you know, when you're not restricted to using a particular style of barley, it becomes easier to scale up your production. So the direction with Levant Heights is basically more accessible to markets and to consumers. Also the price point is lower, for example. The two whiskeys that are available in the US retail on the $50 price range, plus or minus, depends on the state. Whereas Athyr, usually all of our releases, whether they're here or in the US or wherever, they're almost always north of $100 per bottle. Right.


And in the U.S. for example we have two of our, I think the Levant range has, I think we have around five whiskies now that are available, two of them are available in the U.S. So we have the single pot still, which is an Irish inspired style of whiskey. Unlike the Irish 50% barley, 50% malt, we use 60% malt and 40% wheat. So it's a malt and wheat. And we use new American oak barrels. So it has more wood notes in it. Whereas the second whiskey is the dark malt, where we're using as our base malt, Munich malt, which is the darkest malt that you can use that has diastatic power, as in it can convert the starch. And we use roasted malt as well for the flavoring. So it's kind of a stout that is distilled into a whiskey.


The third whiskey that we have is basically a bourbon-inspired whiskey. It's made from Lebanese maize but it's the release that is in the market now is double aged. So it's aged in American oak barrels for about three years and then it's aged for about a couple of years in Cabernet casks.


BST: Nice!


Riachi: Then we have a heavily peated malt where we use Scottish peated malt, Lebanese non-peated malt and then we cold smoke the mash tun. So it's quite smoky. It almost tastes like a bonfire.


BST: Oh wow. Is this available in the US too, or no?


Riachi: Hopefully we'll be able to allocate a small percentage as part of our next shipment. And the final one is called Dual Horizons, Caledonia and Canaan. Caledonia as in Scotland, Canaan as in Lebanon. So basically it's a Scottish inspired style as in it has the peat influence in it, but it's a blend of different malt whiskeys that we produce. We do incorporate a bit of Lebanese oak in it, and we do incorporate a bit of cedarwood finish whiskey in it, and then the final whiskey is barrel aged in American oak for a few years, three years mainly, and then it's basically bottled at a strength of about 46%.


BST: Interesting. Do you make port or sherry?


Riachi: So, we do make sweet wines that are barrel aged. So, basically the barrels, the large barrels, you see the two different sizes of barrels behind me. Right. Most of those large bottles, we are intending on having sweet wine or a sweet wine cask finish whiskey.


BST: Yeah, I was just going to say, I can see having some of your whiskeys in those, like a port finish would be beautiful. So, can you just briefly tell us about your operation. How many people work at the distillery? Do you give tours? How is it structured over there?


Riachi: We have about nine people working at the winery and the distillery. It's a very small operation. Half of those are basically family. Yeah. Lucky! So, we do do tours, but we focus mostly on, when people visit our distillery, we focus more on doing in-depth workshops and master classes. We really, really want consumers to be knowledgeable about wines and spirits because almost all wineries and distilleries do their tours, but where it's lacking is in the educational part. They don't educate their consumers enough about wine or whiskey. And for example, in our whiskey workshop, we don't only include our whiskeys. For example, one of our formats has a lineup of 15 different whiskeys or 23 different whiskeys. A small percentage of those are our whiskeys and the rest are like international whiskeys from all around the world.


BST: Smart. What you're doing is so fascinating to me and I can't wait to get out there and spread the word.


Riachi: Thank You so much for taking the time and hosting me. It's been a pleasure.


BST: Cheers!




TASTING NOTES



Levant Heights

Continental Malt and Wheat Lebanese Whisky

46%ABV


Color: Pale Straw with a hint of white gold

Nose: Lemon oil, buttercream frosting, malt biscuits, vanilla bean...some green apple peel

Palate: Lemon poundcake, coconut, follows through with lotus biscoff malt biscuits, honeysuckle and jordan almonds

Finish: Smooth, oily and medium finish with lingering spice

...a spectacularly unique, delicate and fragrant whisky



Levant Heights

Dark Malt Lebanese Single malt

43%ABV


Color: Dark copper, almost bronze

Nose: Vanilla Extract, dark malt cereal, espresso beans

Palate: Following through from the nose with rich coffee and cream, molasses, bitter dark chocolate, graham cracker and walnuts.

Finish:Rich and oily

... This one again expands the limits of what a whisky can be and I'm pairing this with a Guinness Stout Ginger Bread cake with Chamomile.


ATHYR

Lebanese Single Malt Whisky

55%

Color: butterscotch

Nose: yellow fruits, baking spices, oak

Palate: The palate is spicy and intensely earthy in a way I've never tasted, which gives way to tons of chocolate, mocha, molasses and light buckwheat, finishing with a tingly espresso note.

...The Lebanese oak is a game changer and this is a special occasion whisky. A gorgeous dram!













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