When I interviewed Joe Spiegel, the U.S. importer of Iceland’s Brennivin aquavit last May, he mentioned that the distillery made a limited edition Christmas aquavit each year, and that he was hoping to bring it into our market. I was thrilled. Seasonal beers are common, but too few American distilleries make seasonal spirits.
Unfortunately, Brennivin only produced enough Christmas Spirit for the Icelandic market (or maybe not quite enough): 1,000 700ml bottles. A few bottles found their way into the States though. Spiegel and I met at Skál, the Icelandic restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side, and sampled a bottle with some of the staff.
Brennivin Christmas Spirit takes the traditional aquavit and ages it two ways: in used bourbon barrels and used sherry barrels (both American white oak). It’s a fifty/fifty blend of the two, each aged six months.
“Each year the Christmas release is a little different,” Spiegel told me. “The 2014 is by far my favorite, with 2012 (hints of tart cider) coming in second. Typically the differences lie in the finishing, as opposed to changing the mashbill or flavoring of the spirit itself.”
I asked Spiegel if the Christmas Spirit would make it into our market next year, and if he could give us a hint about what it would be like. “The 2014 was so well received that we’ll be doing something similar for 2015 and increasing production so that more folks in the U.S. can get a taste at the very least, if not their very own bottles,” he said. “Production capacity is very limited, as we need space, barrels, and time. As for hints, we are thinking about tinkering just a bit, changing the ratio to a higher proportion of sherry- to bourbon-finished Brennivin in the 2015 Christmas release.”
So what does it taste like? As I learned in my oak-infusion experiment last year, Brennivin takes oak very well. This Christmas Spirit has the slightly increased sweetness and extra viscosity of the Brennivin I infused with oak, but with much, much more going on: hints of both the bourbon and the sherry are in there, blending really seamlessly with the spice of the caraway. It’s delicious.
Spiegel says the distillery is bringing back two aged aquavits that haven’t been sold since the 1990s in honor of Brennivin’s 80th anniversary: Odals Brennivin, aged three months (that’s the old label at left), and Gamalt Brennivin, aged one year. One of them will probably make it to our market.
Brennivin’s U.S. distribution started in Wyoming in early 2014, and then New York. Spiegel has since added Los Angeles and some of San Francisco (through K&L Wines and others), Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania (special order), Montana, and parts of Canada (also special order).
“The goal for 2015 is to establish distribution in Oregon, Minnesota, and Colorado, so we are a third of the way there already,” Spiegel said. “Wisconsin and Illinois would be next on the list. Folks can expect to see Brennivin involved with the ‘Taste of Iceland’ and ‘Reykjavik Calling’ events that are held in various cities around the country. The first for this year will be held in Boston in mid-March. These are really great events, a lot of fun, the next best thing to taking a trip to Iceland. And I am really excited to be working on an event called “Iceland Erupts” to be held in California in early April.”
Information on Brennivin’s distribution schedule is updated frequently at icelandnaturally.com.