Monday, February 16, 2015

Björk and Birkir: Spirits of Iceland

By Catherine L Luke

Iceland is a country of pure natural beauty with a cultural foundation of strong heritage.  From environmental awareness, to folklore, to unusual cuisine, Iceland is unmistakably one-of-a-kind. 

Despite the country’s leaning toward tradition, there is always room for innovation.  DrinkUpNY would like to introduce Foss Distillery, a company that has created two unique Icelandic spirits.  They are Björk and Birkir- Björk is a liqueur, and Birkir a snaps- new spirits, rooted in Iceland’s old forests. 

I had the opportunity to learn more about the story of Björk and Birkir from Foss Distillery’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Eva Sæland.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind Birkir and Björk?
The birch liqueur, Björk, and the birch snaps, Birkir, are the results of experiments with the qualities and possibilities of the Icelandic birch. The explorations were led by sommelier Ólafur Örn Ólafsson and Gunnar Karl Gíslason, head chef of a new Nordic restaurant in Reykjavík called Dill, and captain of the Icelandic culinary team.

The ambition is to bring the flavor of Icelandic nature to the sphere of international drinking culture. As Ólafsson describes, “I wanted to capture the sensation of the bright Icelandic summer night at the moment when the rain shower clears and the morning dew sets on the birch-clad hill. I think I came pretty close.”

That’s such a lovely image, and I believe the idea was successfully manifested.  Where does Foss Distillery source its ingredients from?
Björk and Birkir are two of many Icelandic names drawn from birch.  Birch (Betula pubescens), the signature tree of Iceland, has numerous wholesome qualities.  The Foss distillery team chose it for its unique and fantastic flavor.  The birch is sourced from the unspoiled Icelandic wilderness.  Particularly, the forests of Hallormsstaðaskógur in the east of Iceland.

The idea of an Icelandic birch-based spirit seems very exotic.  Are these born from any existing idea of traditional Icelandic liqueur or snaps styles?
Birch has never before been made into a commercial snaps or liqueur in Iceland.  We are making history.

What is the process of production like?
For both products the birch sap, which is not sweet, is collected from the trees in the spring and made into a syrup that conveys a fresh and memorable savour. The high quality corn spirit used as a base for both Björk and Birkir is sweetened with the syrup- for Birkir a little, and Björk, being a liqueur, a lot more.  The birch sprigs in each bottle of both Björk and Birkir are individually hand-culled and add a special touch to the appearance of the product.

Considering the distinct styles of Björk and Birkir, is the ambition for them to be served simply, or played around with in cocktail combinations?
These are niche products and very suitable for the cocktail market.  They are also great for personal use, and fantastic gifts as the packaging and concept is beautiful.

Favorite Birkir Cocktail:
Creator: Leó Ólafsson
3cl Birkir snaps
3cl Cointreau
3cl Lemon juice
3cl Birch syrup
Egg white
Method: Dry shake all ingredients without ice for a few seconds, add ice to shaker and shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice into a double rocks glass. Garnish with slice of lemon and a birch twig.

Favorite Björk cocktail:
Creator: Bruno Falcao
3cl Björk liqueur
3cl Ginger syrup
3cl Fresh lime juice
3cl Sour Apple De Kuyper
Method: Pour all ingredients into a shaker and shake well with ice. Fine strain into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a birch leaf and a slice of apple.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Catherine lives in Brooklyn, and has worked in the wine industry in Napa Valley and NYC. She is certified by the WSET, as well as the school of "wine in real life".  Understanding the patchwork of little-known Italian regional wines, dishes, and customs excites her most of all. She (sometimes) muses on her blog GrapesofCath.

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