Age: 3 years old
With its football team qualifying for both Euro 2016 and the World Cup, its tourist numbers increasing rapidly, and a geothermal energy sector that’s pushing technological boundaries, Iceland is really putting itself on the map lately (in a geological sense quite literally; due to its volcanic nature Iceland is still growing in size). To these feats we can now add another important distinction: Iceland has become an exporter of single malt whisky. Sure, Eimverk distillery from Garðabær has been knocking on the gates for a few years now, producing award-winning gins, Brennivín and an exciting whisky spirit. But due to the whims of law, Eimverk’s Young Malt was yet too young to carry the name whisky. Until now. While I have made acquaintance with the Flóki range before, this Single Malt will actually be the first time I’m trying Icelandic whisky.
And what an interesting whisky it is. You can read more about Eimverk’s unique production process here. The use of a hardy strain of Icelandic barley in particular has a very striking effect on the quality of the spirit. This first ever Flóki Single Malt is a single cask bottling that has aged for 3 years. For the maturation, Eimverk has used quite an interesting (and economical) tactic. The virgin oak barrels that were used to age Flóki Young Malt have now been reused as first fill barrels for the maturation of Flóki Single Malt. While this ensured a drinkable Young Malt, it also prepared the casks for its older brother, the Single Malt. The result is a dram that still packs plenty of vanilla and caramel flavours, but with a degree of much-needed subtlety.
The packaging looks great, featuring the Végvisir runic compass, surrounded by Hrafna-Flóki’s ravens. Each bottle has been numbered by hand and signed by the distiller, a nice extra touch that makes this Flóki a little bit extra special. But enough talking: how does this first ever Icelandic whisky actually taste?
Colour: Pale gold
Nose: Youthful, energetic, and instantly recognisable as a product of Eimverk distillery (even their gins display this particular, floral maltiness – must be the Icelandic barley talking?). Oakier than oak itself, this Flóki offers scents of freshly cut wood infused with fragrant spices. Then a fruity character develops, as citric aromas of lemon peel and tangerine take over. These slowly give way to oatcakes and more than a hint of vanilla. Intense but pleasant, on the nose this 3 year old Flóki bears a definite semblance to the Young Malt.
Palate: Light-bodied and zesty, with ripe plums and vanilla bursting from the glass. These are covered in a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. Belatedly, notes of toasted barley and heather honey break to the surface. Sure, this Flóki lacks some depth, but there’s a lot of flavour and a nice sweetness to this dram. Really enjoyable!
Finish: Medium long and intensely spicy. Dried citrus fruits make a return, accompanied by new wood and bittersweet malt.
Verdict: It is important to review this Flóki Single Malt for what it is. Of course there are more complex whiskies on the market. But lest we forget (and drinking this, it is easy to forget): this Flóki is only 3 years old. Where many other young whiskies shroud themselves in blankets of peat to mask any impurities (think Kilchoman or Octomore), this Flóki has no such smokescreen. Even the Young Malt had its shield of virgin oak, but with the Flóki Single Malt, Eimverk’s clean, floral distillery character is allowed to shine through, despite the longer maturation. Does this Flóki taste young? Sure. Are there some rough edges here and there? Definitely. But is it a superb effort for a whisky that’s only three years old? Absolutely!
Earlier this year, I was very positively surprised by the Flóki Young Malt. I love the fact that the distillers at Eimverk are trying to create a unique, Icelandic product, rather than an Icelandic imitation of a Scotch. So is that early promise being fulfilled? Of course we’ll have to wait a few years to see the final product, but so far all the signs continue to point in the right direction. Before then, I’m really excited to see what Flóki will do in European oak. Given that Eimverk has planned a Double Wood Sherry Cask release for some time in 2018, I for one will be eagerly awaiting news from this Icelandic distillery.