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Thursday, 13 March 2014

I Come From The Land of the Ice and Snow: Reyka Vodka

I don't know how much you remember from your youth, but there are certain moments which, when I cast my mind back to them, define the age I was and that era of my life. 

For me the first real football World Cup but I remember was Italia '90. Such was the impact of the fantastic England team at that tournament, that I even purchased the Italia '90 Subbuteo set to relive those famous games with my dad on our dining table. 

The reality is that it probably rained hideously all summer long, but my memory is of running around the park playing as much football as I could and pretending to be an International footballer. I was 10 years old.

Fast forward to today and many World Cups have passed by. Just two later, when France '98 rolled around, life had changed immeasurably: now 18, this World Cup was experienced mainly in the pubs of Oxfordshire, surrounded by beer and friends, the same as many football tournaments since.

For me, World Cups have become an occasion to invite people over (or nip to the pub), open a few cold cans of beer and watch a couple of interesting football matches while catching up on gossip and generally just hanging out and I know this to be true for the generation before me, too. Beer and World Cups are synonymous for me; the perfect beverage to enjoy most watching my top sport.

But imagine being Icelandic... because, until 1989 beer was illegal in the country. There is a whole generation of people slightly older than me who were not able to enjoy any sporting occasion with a cold can of lager, let alone an artisanal craft ale. 

Thankfully times have changed and it is no surprise that post-1989 things in the Icelandic drinks business have been looking up. In the last few years craft breweries have been popping up over the island like sightings of trolls in the Viking times; even calling themselves things like Freyja... crazy, huh!

Not A Whisky, Freya is a locally brew from Iceland
However, as much as we love brewing and beer, they are mere soft drinks compared to what we are concerned with here at Caskstrength: spirits. Such is our love for the stuff that we have a new book coming out later this year called The Spirit Explorers, more of which you will hear about as the year progresses. It looks at interesting spirits, made by interesting people, in interesting places; one of those places being Iceland, for Iceland is the home to the Reyka vodka distillery, first ever on the island. 

An ambitious project which started in 2005, Reyka isn't made like most other vodkas in large column stills, but is distilled using a Carter-Head still of which there are only six operational in the world. The Carter-Head copper still (below right) was traditionally used for gin production as it is easy to hang a basket of botanicals inside. However, the chaps at Reyka have replaced the botanicals with Icelandic volcanic lava rock, which allegedly filters the spirit as it evaporates before condensing. 

Reyka's Carter-Head Copper Still
Again after condensing it passes through a glass receptacle full of lava rocks. These rocks and the ones in the basket are replaced every 50 distillations, cleansing the spirit as it comes off the still.

Couple this unique still and their addition of volcanic rock with Icelandic water, created by the melting of glaciers which feed the local streams and the pure Icelandic air, and you're left with a spirit that is not only crystal clear but has a delicate aroma, wonderfully rich mouth feel with hints of minerals and some vanilla and a finish which gives 'fresh' a whole new meaning. 

I enjoyed it simply over ice (taken from a glacial waterfall) or in a classic vodka martini with zest, where the fresh minerality combines with citrus to be the cocktail equivalent of a quick snort on some Vick's Vapour Rub. Worthy of a start to anyone's evening after a long day in the office.

If you get a chance to try this copper pot still vodka, then give it a go. Try it on the rocks to really put a slice of Iceland in your glass.