Only quite recently, the fine people of Iceland have begun to master the craft of whisky making. The country’s first (and to this day solitary) distillery Eimverk was planned in 2009, built in 2013 and taken into service in 2014. The whisky produced there is called Floki. It is made by hand in very small batches. So far, the Eimverk team has filled about 450 casks in total. Due to the limited availability, every Floki bottle you can buy today is actually a single cask release – individually numbered and signed by the person who made it. When distillery manager Eva María Sigurbjörnsdóttir shared this fact in a recently conducted Floki online tasting, I was baffled. After all, I knew before that Eimverk was not a gargantuan production site. Yet, I had been under the impression that they were significantly bigger than they actually are. In that regard, the German importer Kirsch Whisky, who co-organized the event together with Basti from @WhiskyGermany, has done an amazing job. Over the past few years, the company has made Floki an established and much-liked name over here. And it has also placed Floki’s different expressions in the assortments of many popular spirit shops like Weinquelle Lühmann, Whic.de and others.
Of course, the small output is not the only thing that sets the Icelandic distillery apart from units elsewhere in the world. Another peculiarity is the gear and set-up. As Eva told us, Eimverk uses a German copper still from Arnold Holstein as their spirit still. The wash stills, however, are converted milk tanks; and the warehouses are old freezing containers. The ingredients, all of which are sourced locally, are also special. The local barley, for example, is so low-yielding that a Scottish distillery would not use it. Yet, it gives the spirit a lovely smoothness and creaminess. And the casks? They are not all ordinary either. Besides traditional bourbon or sherry casks, some Floki expressions are also finished in mead and beer barrels. Others are refined with birch staves. “When it comes to the production and maturation, we have some leeway in Iceland that distillers in other countries don’t have,” Eva explained. “We’ve only just started to compose an official set of rules and regulations for Icelandic whisky. In some aspects, we will follow the Scottish example. But in others, we will do our own thing. The whisky we make here is different from any other whisky in the world.”
And indeed – the seven drams we drank that night were totally unique; and very awesome! In all of them, Floki’s distinct distillery character pierced through: a thick and creamy honey note mingling with sweet pastry, mild spices and aromatic herbs. While the samples we sipped were all very young (~3 years), they already offered lots of balance and a good amount of complexity. Another nice detail: As a rule, most Floki whiskies are bottled with an elevated ABV of 47 per cent. And they all come without chill-filtration or artificial coloring. Nevertheless, many of these young drams shine in a deep, full hue. That is because they got matured in very active casks. From the differing wood types that Eimverk Distillery uses, the virgin oak has a particularly strong impact in this department.
Our first dram was the Floki Original. It is matured in ex-Floki casks. What does that mean? Eimverk fills its new make into fresh barrels and bottles it after 18 to 24 months as Young Malt. In a next step, they reuse these casks for the Original. The result is a very smooth whisky with tasty notes of peaches, pine cones, oatmeal cookies and all sorts of spices. Next up was the Stout Cask Finish, which is being realized in collaboration with a small Icelandic brewery with whom Eimverk switches casks. I absolutely loved the black tea, apple peel and dark chocolate flavors in it. Then followed the Double Wood Reserve. For refinement, this sweet and full-bodied malt got an extra-treatment in a mead cask. Here, I learned something new: Contrary to what I had thought, mead is not a much-consumed beverage on Iceland. The explanation is simple and plausible: There are barely any bees in the country. Consequently, the natural honey resources are almost non-existent; and importing honey comes at a price. Our fourth and fifth samples where the Sherry Cask Finish and the Birch Wood Finish. The first brimmed with rum truffles, mint leaves and honey-covered pancakes, while the latter was rich with yellow fruits, soft oranges and strawberry-infused licorice. I really liked ’em both!
We ended the tasting with Floki’s most legendary expression: the Sheep Dung Reserve. To create it, the distillery team uses sheep dung as a substitute for peat. This is an old Icelandic custom that is still being applied today in many areas of every-day life, from heating to cooking. As Eva pointed out, the process is quite a bit more sophisticated than putting a matchstick to a sheep’s leavings. For example, the sheep dung is dried and kept for two years before it is ready to be used in whisky making. To ensure a comprehensive experience, we tried both the fully matured Sheep Dung Reserve and the corresponding New Make back to back. Whereas the unaged spirit was rough, raw and brutish (all in a good way!), the finished product was much more refined and settled. Both the smoky and the goat-y flavors had vanished far into the background. Instead, there was now a complex interplay of honey, toffee, beeswax, pepper, blueberry and modeling clay. In conclusion, I cannot help but say the following: As peculiar as this one-of-a-kind whisky’s origin story is, as tasty is its flavor profile. I am not surprised that the Sheep Dung Reserve is one of the most beloved expressions in Floki’s diverse and highly recommendable line-up!
Floki Original (Single malt / Iceland / ex-Floki cask / 3yo / 47% / EUR 50)
Floki Stout Beer Cask (Single malt / Iceland / Stout cask / 3yo / 47% / EUR 65)
Floki Double Wood Reserve (Single malt / Iceland / Mead cask / 3yo / 45% / EUR 70)
Floki Sherry Cask (Single malt / Iceland / Oloroso cask / 3yo / 47% / EUR 65)
Floki Birch Wood Cask (Single malt / Iceland / Birch staves / 3yo / 47% / EUR 65)
Floki Sheep Dung New Make (Malt spirit / Iceland / unmatured / 0yo / 65% / not for sale)
Floki Sheep Dung Reserve (Single malt / Iceland / es-Floki cask / 3yo / 47% / EUR 65)
*** I was kindly invited to the tasting by Prineus GmbH. Thank you. ***