My Round: Vodka tonic

A lava-filtered Icelandic vodka has erupted into Richard Ehrlich's life
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It doesn't often happen that the makers of a new product have to get a new word invented so that they can manufacture it legally. But that's exactly the predicament in which William Grant & Sons found itself when it was gearing up to distil Reyka vodka in Borgarnes, Iceland. There was an existing word in Icelandic for illegal home stills, but none for the type that Grant wanted to set up. It had to apply to the government to get the new word approved: it was eimir, "the one who distils". Approval was granted. Now the vodka is Iceland's first.

And the world is a better place for it, because Reyka is a seriously good vodka with a seriously interesting background. Iceland itself has no actual history of vodka production, but it does have the right ingredients - apart from an indigenous grain source - for making the stuff really well. The most important is water of exceptional purity - such purity in this case, that the distillers don't have to do anything to it except collect it from the ground. This method, as far as I know, is unique in the world of distilling, because distillers normally need to treat their water for the removal of natural minerals. However, the water used for Reyka comes out of the ground pre-purified. To give you an idea: Volvic has a content of dissolved solids that's five times higher than Reyka's, Evian's level is nearly 15 times higher.

The second local ingredient that makes Reyka so special is volcanic rock. The spirit passes through ancient lava twice. Lava acts as a natural filter, but it also may contribute some flavour components that are unique to Reyka. And the third ingredient is a Carter Head still, for which a name had to be found before Reyka could be made at all.

Carter Heads are just puny things by international distilling standards, so Reyka is essentially batch-made (very rare for vodka). Also, the internal design of a Carter Head, with a large surface area of impurity-capturing copper, makes for a vodka of exceptional smoothness.

There are two things I don't like quite so much about Reyka. One is the stopper, which is a cork. The risk of cork-taint just doesn't seem worth it to me. The second is limited availability: it's sold at the moment only through independents such as Harvey Nicks, Peckhams and Gerry's as well as a couple of specialist websites. But one major supermarket has taken an interest, so availability may increase. At a £15.99 recommended retail price, it ain't the cheapest premium vodka on the block. It's not even close, however, to being the most expensive.

Apart from those quibbles, I am smitten by Reyka. It has yielded perfection in a vodka Martini and vodka Collins, the two cocktails in which I've tried it. I like it so much I will make it my vodka of choice in my Martini Monologues (see the endnote for information on booking). And it would be reason enough to fall in love with Iceland, even if that beautiful, fascinating country did not boast lambs testicles among its national specialities.

Of course, any sane person has to ask if there is room for another vodka in the deeply competitive market. Two things make me think that Reyka has a fighting chance. One, it's a great story, especially the water of mind-bending purity. Two, it's a great product. Not a bad combination. s

Three Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs

2004 Sileni Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc (£9.99, Thresher)
Exactly what you expect: big, ripe, mouth-filling. Buy three and it works out at £6.66 per bottle.

Nobilo Five Fathoms Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (£5.49, Sainsbury's)
Entry-level price for a very decent wine. Nothing earth-shaking, but it lowers the price barrier in a field that's not exactly cheap.

St Clair Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Reserve 2004 (£13.99, Sainsbury's)
Almost too much: big gooseberries, lavish passion fruit, steely acidity. A real treat for fans of the region.

Richard Ehrlich's Martini Monologues will be held on 14 November at St Johns pub, London N19, at 6.30pm. Tickets cost £10, which includes a Martini. For information, tel: 020 7272 1587

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