“My grandmother used to make rhubarb wine,” says Sveinn Steinsson. A chef turned brewer, Sveinn is the man behind Sultuslakur—Iceland’s first locally-brewed rhubarb cider.
Cider drinking is quite new to Iceland, but Sultuslakur is aiming to change that. “The first idea was to make wine, but then I thought about how we can use rhubarb better,” Sveinn explains. “The only way we use it here in Iceland is for jam. I was working with Gísli [Matthías Auðunsson] at Matur og Drykkur at the time—we were looking at how to use Icelandic culture in our food. That was the beginning.”
Flash forward three years, and Sveinn’s experiments have grown into the brewing and bottling of his cider, in collaboration with Ægir Brugghús. “It’s just so much more drinkable than wine,” he enthuses.
Sveinn’s process begins by using crushed rhubarb, apples, brown sugar and honey to kickstart the fermentation. ‘’We rack it after two weeks,” he explains, “and after four more weeks, it’s drinkable.’’ The cider available at Vínbúð has been aged for three months.
The entire process takes much longer, however. Two years ago, Sveinn planted over 2000 rhubarb plants, in the hope of using them for batches of cider. His partner in this enterprise—Ólafur S.K. Þorvaldz, a co-owner and partner at Ægir Brugghús—helped him bring it to fruition.
“Svenni was selling us some rhubarb for another project,” says Ólafur. “He’d mentioned doing something with rhubarb and we talked about it briefly. Then he called me a few months later and said, ‘Listen, opening up a brewery is f***ing expensive.’ But if I see something interesting, then I want to do it. And this definitely is. Use of Icelandic flora has been completely missing. No one has done an Icelandic cider like Sultuslakur.”
An apple cider at its base, the addition of rhubarb lends the drink an alluring tang and crisp bite, reminiscent of French ciders. “Exactly,” Ólafur exclaims. “It’s a little dry. The ingredients are the controlling factor. We use a Belgian ale yeast strain, giving it a more rounded and fruity flavour.”
By now, we’ve tried a two-week old cider, freshly fermented, mildly cloudy and beginning to settle. A surprisingly great youngling, it’s just days into the process, and the rhubarb notes are fresh and almost floral. “That’s one of the things about cider,” says Sveinn. “It will age and change slowly and gradually throughout the process, just like beer.”
Sveinn’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his genuine passion for his craft shines through. “Many have been going into this drink with Somersby in mind, and then they are slapped in the face with the tartness,” he laughs. “But you can pair it with seafood or cheese boards, or drink it on the porch…”
I can’t think of many better ways to ease into summer than with a sparkling glass of Sultuslakur in hand.
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