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TPFQuick: name anything from Iceland.

Pencils down, please. Aha…you wrote “Bjork”.

Well, good…but no cigar. You can, however, have a nice cold vodka for your troubles…and as it happens, we have one made in Iceland!

I have to confess that I, too, would have said “Bjork”. The only other thing I might have said was “ice” but that would be kinda obvious. No, the essential nature of Iceland is that it has a lot of ice…hence the name. And having ice means that it’s cold – really cold and for a lot of every year – and top that off with volcanic activity on a scale that makes the Pacific “Rim of Fire” look like a toddler waving a sparkler and you have an agricultural potential on the order of Newark, New Jersey. So, the idea that Iceland will produce any sort of stuff made from plants is kinda far-fetched. So where the heck did they get the wheat and barley to make this, well, chillingly delicious bottle of Vodka-flavored Vodka?

437488Unless you’ve got a real hankerin’ for Hakarl – putrified shark buried in volcanic ash until it’s literally reeking of ammonia – tasting the native products of Iceland is an unedited episode of Bizarre Foods. As in all native cuisines, Iceland used what they had on hand and the modern food evolved from that. So, it’s become one of the few places on earth where puffin, ptarmigan, Minke whale, cormorant, and pink-footed goose are on restaurant menus. And their alcohol production, until recently, centered around a particularly vicious form of aquavit, Brennivín – also called “The Black Death” –  made from potato mash and caraway seeds.  For most of its history, that was about it…until now.

reykaicelandicvodka__71150__26837.1472753168.1280.1280Reyka Vodka has, as its advertising slogan, “In Iceland, the only flavored Vodka we make is Vodka-flavored Vodka.” Even before tasting it, I’m liking the attitude. I’ve lately had a couple of Vodkas that were infused with fruits, herbs, or honey but, fundamentally, I’m looking for beverages that get their flavors from the actual ingredients used to make the base spirit. From somewhere in Western Europe – I suspect Denmark – Reyka’s distillers got hold of some genuinely lovely, nutty, wheat and barley. These are the two and only constituent ingredients in Reyka, a gorgeously clean, graceful bottle of stuff that, as with so many of the modern artisan Vodkas I’m tasting lately, has not been filtered down to something neutral or, as I’ve begun to call it, “neutered”. This is the polar opposite of your Granddad’s Stoly. Of the five craft Vodkas I’ve reviewed in the past year, Reyka is second to only Joseph, Oregon’s Stein Distillery Rye Vodka in balance, coherence, and satiny intensity of flavor. I’d even go so far as to call them 1 and 1-A, in fact, bearing in mind that they’re made from two distinctly different forms of grain. Rye has a far more assertive and distinctive flavor profile than wheat and barley and one can only wonder what the two companies would do using each other’s native materials.

Reyka is subtly spicy, incredibly smooth, and brilliantly aromatic stuff. The aroma – that aspect that most separates the artisan Vodkas from their uptight ancestors – climbs out of the glass as it’s passed under your nose. It’s warm and inviting and reminiscent of cinnamon rolls baking in a hot oven, rose petals, new-mown hay, pipe tobacco, and stewed berry compote. It’s an intoxicating scent that miraculously carries over to the palate, presenting in a sweet, toasty, fruitcake-like note that transforms into mixed berries, spice cake, and caramel – all of these whispered, not shouted. All this from just the masterful and judicious use of its grains – the very character that traditional Vodka makers deliberately filter out.

I can’t tell you what a freakin’ pleasure this is to sip. Notice I said “sip” and not “drink”.  Sipping is what’s called for with this and its spiritual cousin from Stein. Tiny sips literally explode onto your tongue, creating all the flavor of an entire mouthful of some other Vodkas. It’s a very sensual, engrossing beverage; something which I can absolutely imagine sipping in Iceland’s fabled geothermal pools where shivering tourists go to soak against the frigid Icelandic winters. The warming sensation that spirits are deemed to provide just feels different here, starting as  warm trachea and suffusing your whole body within seconds, much the way first-timers describe the effect of aquavit.


Reyka Print Ads

It’s not at all hyperbole to say that I’m as impressed by Reyka as by any beverage I’ve reviewed since the start of “The Pour Fool”. From out of – at least from my perspective – nowhere comes something this replete, this polished, and this simply, frankly delicious. I have no idea what this will be like as a mixer, since I don’t drink mixed drinks except for Bloody Marys, but I suspect that it would seriously mess with any sweet drink recipe. In our recent Bloody experiment, however, it proved a gorgeous addition to the unsweet flavor profile of my own Mary mix and worked similar magic in the one commercial mix we tasted it with, Seattle’s brilliant Dimitri’s.

You should expect to pay something on the order of $23 – $29 for a bottle of Reyka – an absolute steal for a Vodka of this quality.

And, let’s be honest: we’d all give at least that much just not to think of Bjork every time somebody mentions Iceland, wouldn’t we?

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Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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