We somehow managed to get ourselves to the Eimverk Distillery near Reykjavik today. We spent a few days already in Iceland.
Eimverk distills small batches of gin and whiskey using all Icelandic barley and herbs. We had a full lesson of what it takes to make a great gin or whiskey, what exactly barrel aging does, and some of the subtleties of alcohol distillation.
In simple terms, distilling frankincense means slowly cooking frankincense gum in water, cooling the steam as it comes out, so that it turns back into liquid, and then separating the oil from the water. Pretty simple really, at least in theory.
Distilling for gin, tequila, rum, vodka or whiskey means you start with a base of grain, or potato, or sugar cane, or agave, or whatever. It has to ferment. Here in Iceland, Eimverk distillery uses an organically grown Icelandic strain of barley as their base, and this is for both gin and whiskey. Not being an avid drinker I didn't know any of this stuff. But that is now rectified.
So this organic barley is grown at the Arctic Circle and was apparently grown for hundreds of years in Iceland but then disappeared for a long time due to a minor temperature dip and is only now, in the last twenty years coming back. It's a hardy and complex barley, with a lot of tastes and aromas.
|Icelandic Strain of Barley. Organic from the Arctic Circle|
First the barley is soaked in lovely machines-- former milk tanks-and then left to ferment a little while. Then it's distilled in this magnificent German copper still and what comes out of there was delicious enough for me. It was like an eau de vie, light and lyrical yet very clear and crystal-like in the medley of tastes. But at this point it's still not ready; only a kind of bare bones canvas. But it was already magnificent. And this is the base for both the gin and the whiskey. It's what happens after that illuminates it and creates those distinctions.
For gin, it goes next into another still, along with some handpicked and fairly native Icelandic herbs and gets distilled again. While all gin must include juniper berries, this one also has rhubarb, crow berries, Angelica root, birch leaves, wild Icelandic thyme, kale (!), Iceland moss and sweet kelp! That's crazy ridiculous in my book, just what I'd hoped to find here.
|Young Malt Whiskey and Pot Gin|
Floki whiskey is also unique and wonderful. Rather than go into the still with those botanicals for a third distillation, this goes in a barrel, to age. The barrels are fired on the inside and made of white oak, from the United States. The marriage of oak and burnt help create that caramel note, and the sweet surprises like banana and brown sugar I found. I'll point out again that I am not a whiskey aficionado, or a wine connoisseur, although I enjoy them both. I just smell essential oils and eat ice cream, and while I do enjoy some odd liqueurs I am not a cocktail person by any means. This whiskey was so inspiring! Chocolate! Coffee! Caramel! There's a whole lotta love goin on in that puppy.
|Aquavit, Gin, Barrel Gin, Single Malt Whiskey and peaty one|
Practically speaking, I can also say (this from the Master Distiller himself,) that the Icelandic barley is low in sugars and this results in a bigger, more interesting and more complicated flavor. Both of these alcohols were just great, absolutely wonderful. Look for them in your country soon, or give them a call next time you're in Reykjavik. Links to follow at the end of this post.
I'm here in Iceland with Tom; we used to do a little New Year's Eve thing and now we're doing it away. We flew here for a few days just to enjoy a different scene and nothing to do with essential oils and what a different scene it is! I didn't realize three and a half hours of daylight would throw me off so much!
We spent yesterday at the Blue Lagoon, an outdoor geothermal pool. In their own words: "Iceland’s high-temperature geothermal areas are found inside the spreading zone of two tectonic plates: the American and the Eurasian. Iceland straddles the two, resulting in the country's active volcanic systems. A cold mixture of seawater and ground water meets cooling magmatic intrusions deep in the earth, where it is rapidly heated and moves towards the surface. The temperature of this geothermal fluid exceeds 200°C at a depth of less than 1 km."
The pools contain silica and an abundance of minerals:
CHEMICAL. MG/KG OF FLUID
Silica (SiO2) 251
Sodium (Na) 7.643
Potassium (K) 1.117
Calsium (Ca) 1.274
Magnesium (Mg). 0,60
Carbon dioxide (CO2) 11,4
Sulphate (SO4) 31,8
Chlorine (Cl) 15.740
Fluorine (F) 0,18
Total Soluble Chemicals. 25,800 mg/kilo
It's pretty cool, and lovely in the short winter days. If you're in Iceland, make sure you make a reservation. There are buckets of white silica everywhere and you are welcome to slather it all over your face while you bathe.
We've also been to the penis museum, really. It's very strange and they have lots of giant whale penises in formaldehyde.
|Icelandic National Handball Team 2008|
If you're a vegetarian here, better to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel because the Icelandic restaurant scene is not pretty. Sheeps head, putrified shark, blood pudding, minke whale steaks and horse are all on the menu, in addition to excellent seafood, but it's gonna cost ya....
Totally badass--Here's what Icelanders do at New Years
Everything shuts early, 4 pm at the latest. They go have dinner with family, party with friends, then bonfires are lit throughout the city, symbolically burning away the old year. About 10 pm people (maybe 90%) go home to to watch a television show I can't write because I don't have the patience to find the accent marks necessary for Icelandic. This show is a year end in review and very satirical, and hilarious, they say. After that's over most people in the city come out of their houses and plenty of them made their way up to the Church (Reykjavik Catherdral) where we were. Now, mind you, a few fireworks have been going off the entire time, from different places. Fireworks are sold by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue; it's all volunteer and this is one way to make sure they have the best equipment. They rescue about 1200 people a year.
The streets were still basically deserted at 11 pm, with the odd firework or two somewhere out there. So we walk up to the church at 11:15 and there are lots of people and tons of them are setting off their own fireworks and it just crazier and crazier. It's your civic duty to buy as many fireworks as you can! By a quarter to 12 it was complete mayhem-fireworks everywhere, in every direction, from the middle of the crowd, from people's houses, with their kids, everything. The entire sky was exploding, and there was not a single police officer anywhere. Not one. In fact, we have not seen a single policeman anywhere, the entire time we've been in Iceland. We did want to, as their Instagram account is adorable.
Everyone was on foot. It was freezing and began to rain, then sleet. No one budged and they don't use umbrellas in Iceland either-too much wind. It was easily the most badass display I've ever seen. They didn't even bother counting down the time to 2015. Really. Just kept setting off their rockets and firecrackers and fireworks and all. There's a big clock on the front of the church and Apple owns time now anyway, but no one noticed. They just don't give a shit. Not an authority figure in sight. Some people were drinking but hardly anyone seemed drunk. It was just a big crowd of people making their own celebration in the middle of town with a hell of a lot of gunpowder and no animosity. New York seems absurdly tame. I can't imagine any place I know where people would act like this. Not New York, not Muscat, not Salalah, Rome, nowhere. It was quite liberating. There is no public fireworks display from the city of Reykjavik. It's all private and no controls at all. For all I know, the prime minister was standing in the crowd setting off his own bottle rockets.
I swear Iceland is the honey badger country. All that endless geothermal energy, and pretty extreme weather although I gather it could be a lot worse. They just deal and they totally don't care. They heat their floors. The energy is endlessly renewable and the population of the entire country is less than 350,000. They have whale watching tours but also eat whale steak. They have volcanos and northern lights and for some reason the moss (really a lichen) is preternaturally beautiful. Elves and fairies live everywhere. The Icelandic ponies are fierce and hardy. There is a group offering hikes only in snowstorms! They don't even bother to salt most of the sidewalks as ice doesn't faze them. Local people can wear slick bottom shoes, and still walk normally down an icy path with no problem. I can't walk though the parking lot without falling on my ass.
We came for a few days holiday, and I was surprised at how the long nights affected me, and how free society seemed. Living as I do in two ultra-controlled environments, (Oman and New York,) it invigorated me with an arctic blast!
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Pool
Iceland Penis Museum
Reykjavik Police on Instagram