Published June 15, 2018
Is there ever not a time for a gin and tonic? Cold or hot, no matter the weather, an icy cold G&T can elevate a boring day to a full-on Caribbean paradise in a matter of minutes. That’s why when I get the opportunity to take a tour of Iceland’s only whiskey and spirit distillery that uses solely Icelandic ingredients I say yes in an instant.
As I sit sipping my slightly bubbly drink I look at the row of labelled bottles sitting on a wooden counter in front of me, their liquid contents shining placidly behind the glass. A string of multi-coloured fairy lights is wrapped around the bar shelves, while whiskey barrels are stacked all the way up to the floor to my right.
I decided to invite my friend and specialty coffee barista Mikolai to Eimverk’s whiskey tasting session—not only because I am much more of a gin fan than anything else, but also because when dealing with the intricacy of flavours it’s always better to have company.
A complex experience
As it turns out, just like with coffee, this is an experience that encompasses all senses—first and foremost smell. The potent scent of yeast hits you as soon as you walk in, almost bouncy in its texture, its saccharine tones gently framed by the fresh touch of kelp. That same sweetness we find later in one of Eimverk’s most popular product—the Flóki young malt.
After swirling and nosing as our guide suggests, we take a sip: the fiery nutmeg tones tingle on my lips almost immediately, while Miki spots a hint of ripe apples. “It’s so complex,” he whispers. “It’s not only fruits, there’s something else behind it.” It takes two drops of water to dilute the whiskey just enough to discover what it is: bread crust and honey tones fill our mouths, their thick textures lingering on the tongue.
Iceland’s first whiskey
Although the young malt has been a very popular product, the company’s pièce de résistance is its brand-new single malt. “Making whiskey is a journey—and even more so here in Iceland,” our guide Páll explains.
Three years after the first batch was decanted in barrels, in fact, the guys at Eimverk could finally boast a 100% Icelandic whiskey—the first and only one in the country, and aptly named Flóki after the man who discovered and named Iceland. Brighter and fresher than its younger brother, Flóki single malt is pure spring in a bottle.
But it’s the sheep dung smoked reserve that capture Miki’s heart at first whiff. Inspired by a traditionally Icelandic process to smoke food products, the barley is—you’ve guessed it!—smoked with burnt sheep dung, thus absorbing its pungent aroma. This version of Flóki is incredibly oaky, with a faint fruity aftertaste. “Can you taste the raisins?” Miki asks.
The poetry of gin
We’ve been at Eimverk for about an hour when Páll, our guide, finally opens the wooden doors of the distillery. A sea of white barrels and complicated machineries extends before my eyes, including a giant sack of unrefined barley. Icelandic barley, it turns out, has a thicker shell because of cold winds and long winters. From 400 kg of barley and more than a tonne of water, the guys at Eimverk create 60 liters of unique whiskey.
Same goes for the gin. To make things difficult, the guys at Eimverk decided to only choose Icelandic botanicals that have been growing here for at least a century. The anice tones in Vor gin play well with the citrusy taste of rhubarb, making this a bright and sweet drink perfect for summer.
Their classic Icelandic brennivín, Víti, holds powerful whiffs of cumin and thyme, which make this a schnapps to remember. Needless to say, there is something for everyone at Eimverk distillery, as long as you can appreciate a good joke and a unique drink made with passion.