- Created: 16 February 2017 16 February 2017
We stop outside a non-descript, light industrial building on reclaimed land in the Hafnarfjörður docks, a little outside Reykjavik. Snorri Jónsson invites us in and soon we are sniffing at a massive tea bag of caraway and angelica steeping in alcohol.
He’s a softly spoken, former engineer, whose enthusiasm for what he does shines through. The early years of 64° Reykjavik Distillery were a struggle. Icelandic drinks were a mix of imported spirits, water and sweets, with products like liquorice-flavoured Opal and a defunct drink that gloried in the name of Gulur Boxhanski or Yellow Boxing Glove. The care and attention and foraged ingredients necessarily made the products more expensive. One important purchasing manager pointed out that prices were equivalent to those of French cognac, which SnorriSnorri reckoned was about right.
At the back of the distillery, are several shelves of bottles, jars and flasks. These are the distillery’s experiments; drinks made from thyme, seacoast angelica and reindeer moss, a redcurrant and blueberry brandy, a rhubarb vodka and a new gin with extra Icelandic botanicals for which he has high hopes.
Snorri leads us upstairs to sample his wares. We reach a mezzanine, where the scents of the many botanicals have coalesced into a gorgeous, enveloping fug. He sets out his full range of eight bottles and a box of glasses. We work our way through four spirits and four liqueurs.
First up is Katla Vodka, which is what you expect a good vodka to be. He’s proud of it but a little frustrated that it accounts for half of the company’s turnover. More time and creative effort go into the other drinks but “people know and understand vodka” and when it comes to the important airport market, “people don’t go into duty free to buy liqueurs”.
Einiberja is a juniper schnapps or gin, for simplicity’s sake. It’s flavoured with juniper alone. The pine forest smell is distinct but the overall nose quieter than most gins. It doesn’t demand tonic and a slice of lemon, though it would hold its own well enough.
Next, Snorri pours from two bottles of Brennivin, one of 43% and one of 50%. Brennivin is an Icelandic institution, name-checked in Dr Disco Shrimp’s satirical song Everybody, along with Icelandic horses, beauty queens, the Blue Lagoon and Eurovision parties (sorry about the crappy video). The 43% is the earthier of the two, the 50% softer, gentler on the botanics and with the alcohol hitting late.
“Now for dessert” announces Snorri, pouring measures of rhubarb liqueur. InDulwich has already written about this one. I’ll just add that the maker’s tip for a summer drink is a 50-50 mix with sparkling water.
Another side-by-side tasting is next, this time of Blueberry and Arctic Bilberry. It’s quite hard to tell a wild blueberry from a bilberry and the liqueurs are but subtly different, with the bilberry perhaps a touch more acidic. “2cl on ice” is the tip for this one.
Snorri tells us about the foraging process. From the end of July, he’s in contact with his ‘local agents’ around the country, who range from teams of kids raising money for a school trip to a vigorous eighty something, harvesting eighty something kilos. Iceland’s weather is highly unpredictable and securing the required quantities is not a foregone conclusion.
By now, we have rich and fruity crowberry in front of us. We’ve written about this one too. It’s still my favourite but rivalled by the gin. In a few bars in town, you can ask experienced bar staff for an Icelandic Negroni, made with the rhubarb and crowberry liqueurs, the Einiberja, a slice of orange and perhaps a hint of orange bitters.
We have now supped from all eight bottles. We thank Snorri for his hospitality but instead of ushering us to the door, he reaches for an unlabelled bottle of red liquid. This work in progress is redcurrant liqueur and tastes like it will find a place in the range. Redcurrant bushes grow profusely in Iceland, though in gardens rather than the wild.
We descend the staircase and make for the exit but there is one more surprise in store. We pause by some beautiful oak barrels. Snorri unstoppers one and draws out a measure of whisky that’s been ageing for three years. It’s 70% proof so he dilutes it with a splash of water. I get the welcome whiff of antiseptic. We feel privileged to have been given a foretaste of something en route to becoming another fine drink.Add a comment
- Created: 14 February 2017 14 February 2017
Eating out on St Valentine's Day is cheesy (we all know that), so many of us choose to discuss this sensibly with our partners and agree to go out on another night close to the 14th. The palpable shudder of relief in being spared the grimness of other couples celebrating this valiant and noble saint's day, is also sometimes accompanied by a pang of missing out. Even if the man doesn't feel it, he ought to admit that it is worth hedging against.Add a comment
- Created: 10 February 2017 10 February 2017
It’s the climb up White Hill that gets the sweat breaking out on my brow. It is a little steeper than Box Hill but perhaps it’s just that it’s an hour and a half into the walk. Either way, from White Hill, it’s a comfortable stretch to Mickleham and a pub lunch at the Running Horses.
- Created: 08 February 2017 08 February 2017
InDulwich couldn’t find an opener, so Nick used his trusty hammer to open the first bottle. The denizens of the old stable block-come-office space were gathered round expectantly. The 33cl bottle of Gosnells London Mead was split between the six of us, enough for a good sniff and glug. Lined up before us was the rest of a selection six pack. Here’s how the tasting went. Add a comment
- Created: 05 February 2017 05 February 2017
Natalia Baloghova tests Optiat’s "Pick me up coffee scrub - Lemongrass lifter” and concludes that this natural and ethical scrub goes beyond what it says on the tube!
Coming back from my gym and pilates class last weekend, I got that afternoon down feeling. It was a gloomy, late January afternoon with a dark soporific sky peering through the window. I found it hard to get going for the rest of the day. Well if anything, this was the day to give the new Optiat coffee scrub a go! Add a comment
- Created: 03 February 2017 03 February 2017
Sea water, burnt honey, hibiscus and tarragon are tools of the trade for the experimental labs of Gosnells mead brewery. Tom Gosnell confesses to lots of failures along the way but perseveres until they have the mix right. Add a comment
- Created: 20 January 2017 20 January 2017
I would never claim to be an urban explorer. The thrill seeker end of the spectrum looks terrifying but the questing historian version seems deeply admirable. My dabbling tended to towards the latter, though in a rather unfocussed way. Add a comment
- Created: 17 January 2017 17 January 2017
Whilst walking at high speed through Herne Hill last Sunday I passed the newly established Wild & Lees under the railway bridge in Herne Hill and dropped in to see what was on offer. With so much talk of our amputation from Europe, I felt a pang of nostalgia for the boulevards and cafes of Paris at the sight of this bottle from the beaujolais subregion of Cote de Brouilly. Add a comment
- Created: 11 January 2017 11 January 2017
A few months ago, I wrote a nostalgic piece about lost, favourite restaurants, those places you drift back to from time to time. They may not have the best food (though they may) but something about them suits you. Oishii and the others have gone but the stock can be replenished. One such is Kaosarn, a small, Thai place in Brixton Village. It is a typical Brixton Village place and feels a bit like being in a shack. Add a comment
- Created: 08 January 2017 08 January 2017
Blogging for InDulwich, I like to wander around our beat from time to time. It’s not so much marking out our territory, lamppost by lamppost, as revisiting areas I don’t know well and treading streets I haven’t trod before. My last stroll took a winding path through West Dulwich, Gipsy Hill, Crystal Palace and Norwood. Through a chain link fence I saw a motorcycle helmet and couldn't help wondering whether it had a head in it. Add a comment
- Created: 05 January 2017 05 January 2017
There is a growing disquiet on both sides of the Brexit debate over what the government should do and it is fair to say that one side's salvation is the other's catastrophe. Yet, when I speak to people about their views, usually strongly held, they seem to be more emotional than factual and founded on various spin created over the course of the referendum campaign and beyond. Add a comment
- Created: 04 January 2017 04 January 2017
Dulwich Hamlet beat Hendon the other day, continuing a good run but my thoughts are drawn more to another local side, Streatham Rovers. Rovers’ last games saw them thump Witley Rovers 4-1 and then ease past Dynamo Catford by a goal to nil. The Catford game was interrupted both by a drunk Richard Branson and three minutes silence for people who had died at Rovers games in 2016. These incidents speak volumes about the club. Add a comment
- Created: 24 December 2016 24 December 2016
Heaps of food and an old-fashioned EU lake of wine, not to mention hours slumped in front of fire or film. The need to get some air in the lungs grows. Our part of South London is blessed with lovely parks like Dulwich, Brockwell, Ruskin and Crystal Palace and of course there are Dulwich and Sydenham Woods but here are a three suggestions, a little further afield but reachable by train or tube. Add a comment