Food & Drink Dec 30, 2015

Iceland’s Craft Liquor Industry is Booming

How Iceland went from prohibition to a thriving cocktail scene.

In a recent New York Times article, author Adam Graham explored Iceland’s cocktail and distillery scene that has truly blossomed since the country’s 2008 financial crisis. In a country where citizen-backed prohibition was once the law, the land of fire and ice is now using its famed natural resources to produce one-of-a-kind liquors and cocktails.

From using geothermal energy and lava rock filtration to incorporating Icelandic moss and sheep dung-smoked herbs, these spirits aim to capture the essence of Iceland. Distilleries can be found throughout the country, with their liquors now being served in many bars throughout Reykjavik. In fact, upscale hostels like Kex and Loft Hostel are becoming widely known for their cocktail bars.

Iceland’s relationship with alcohol has a rocky past. In 1908, the country’s citizens voted for alcohol prohibition; hard liquor sales were banned until 1935 and full-strength beers weren’t legal until 1989. In 1935, as public sentiment softened toward liquor, the Icelandic government began producing Brennivin, the country’s signature spirit. Known as “Black Death,” Brennivin is flavored only with caraway and is made with Icelandic water. The U.S. began importing Brennivin in 2014. It wasn’t until 2005 that the country’s first modern (and zero-emission) distillery, Reyka, opened its doors. Its vodka is filtered with lava rocks and made from naturally pure, untreated water from the Grabok spring.

A whiskey boom hit the country in 2009 when two brothers, Egill and Haraldur Thorkelsson, opened the Eimverk Distillery in Lyngas – though the company didn’t start selling commercially until 2014. Eimverk’s pot-distilled Vor Gin is made with 100% Icelandic botanicals, and its Floki Whiskey has an intense honey finish party due to using locally-grown barley with low starch. The company plans to release a Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve in 2016.

Why sheep dung? “In Iceland, we traditionally smoke meat and salmon with sheep dung rather than wood or peat, like Scotland,” said the distillery’s chief executive, Haraldur Thorkelsson. “We don’t have much forest in Iceland, and peat has a negative environmental impact. But sheep dung we have plenty of.”

Have you had any unique Icelandic cocktails? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @IcelandNatural! Looking to make some Icelandic-inspired cocktails of your own? Check out these great seasonal recipes or where to find famed Icelandic aquavit Brennivin near you.