The Rare Find: Bozwin Palestine Whisky


Whisky has traditionally been produced in one of three countries: Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. In recent years, Japanese Whisky has also been spotlighted as being extremely high quality, which has led to an interest in other less traditional production areas like India, Taiwan, France, and South Africa. However, one area of the world has perplexed enthusiasts since the publication of Michael Jackson's The World Guide to Whisky in 1987, a widely distributed, seminal work about the spirit if there ever was one. On page 4 of the book, before any text, there is a grid of whisky labels. One of them reads "Palestine Whisky". What? For real??

 
The Hebrew text reads "Splendor of Zion" and "Kosher for Passover". (Photo: Gary He/Insider Images)

The Hebrew text reads "Splendor of Zion" and "Kosher for Passover". (Photo: Gary He/Insider Images)

 

Bozwin, which roughly translates to "Beauty of Zion" was a brand created in the late 1920s by Mendel Chaikin, a Russian immigrant who founded M. Chaikin & Company, a London-based wine and spirit merchant. The company purchased kosher wine, spirits, and liquers in bulk from what is now modern day Israel, and shipped them back to London for bottling and sale to a growing Jewish community in the East End of London. The head offices for M. Chaikin & Co. were located at 72-74 Brick Lane, down the street from what was once the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. The building, which is now the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid that serves the neighborhood's mostly Bangladeshi community, started off as a Protestant chapel in 1743. 

Advertisements for the sale of Bozwin could be found in the Jewish Chronicle (click the picture for a larger view) and even featured a photo of barrels being selected and shipped back to London for sale. This may have just been clever marketing, however, as the Museum of London suggests that the company also conducted winemaking and distilling operations in the basement of the synagogue, perhaps for blending purposes or for sale outright—for all the hand-wringing about Non-Distiller Producers and Non-Age Statement whiskies these days, one must remember that most liquor producers have never been totally upfront about what was really in the bottle. In any case, it's likely that the product was very young (although older than three years, per regulations put forth by the Immature Spirirts Act of 1915) and contained a blend of grain and malt whisky. Both of these things were typical for an entry level consumer whisky at the time. 

M. Chaikin & Co. stopped operating in 1976, but signs of the Jewish immigrant community that once lived in the area are still present: a sign for CH N. KATZ, a twine and string merchant that went out of business in the late 1990s, is located across the street from the former synagogue. Several beigel bakeries in a row (which are still in business!) can be visited a few blocks north on Brick Lane. The mosaic work underneath a rug at 74 Brick Lane still displays the Chaikin name. 

Besides Bozwin, there haven't been too many other instances of commercially available whisky made in Palestine or Israel. National Distillers attempted to produce an Israeli whisky in the 1970s with Ascot Special Deluxe Blended Scotch, but it was quickly sued by the Scotch Whisky Association for attempting to market itself as Scotch whisky and ended their efforts shortly thereafter. In 2012, a team of Israeli entrepreneurs started The Milk & Honey Distillery, with the hopes of producing the first single malt whisky in the country's history. Production is currently underway.