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Reyka Small Batch Vodka

Review: Reyka Small Batch Vodka   80/100
Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published April 18, 2017

Reyka Small Batch Vodka is produced at Iceland’s first distillery (the Reyka Distillery) located 74km outside of Reykjavik in Borgarnes, Iceland. This location is pretty much removed from industrial pollution. In fact measured CO2 levels in the air at Borgarnes are actually falling rather than increasing.

At the Reyka distillery they collect water from a spring that runs through a lava field. The water is naturally filtered by the lava rock and with that clean water they distill their spirit in one of the few Carter-Head Stills in the world. Each distillation takes about 6 hours and yields 255 preciously small cases. The final vodka contains only natural flavors and extracts. The final spirit is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

Note: The addition of minute quantities of special natural ingredients is consistent with what I know of traditional European production methods where each distilled vodka has its own recipe and its own special ingredients. It is these special ingredients used in very small proportions which contribute to the individual character of each Vodka. (By small quantities I really do mean small; typically these extra ingredients are measured in parts per million.)

I sampled Reyka Small Batch Vodka for the first time when I chose to compare four Vodkas in a small tasting competition (Smirnoff No. 21 Red, Reyka, Skyy and Last Mountain Distillery Hand Crafted Vodkas) earlier this year. I tasted the spirits in pairs, and when I determined which vodka from each pair was my preferred spirit, then I tasted the winners of each of the previous tasting sessions went head to head in a final taste-off.

My review of Reyka Vodka is based upon the tasting notes from that Tasting Competition.

The First Impression 8.5/10

Reyka Vodka is sold in the long-necked glass bottle shown to the left. The photo does not show it well but the bottle has a light smokey tint which gives the liquid inside a light blue hue when observed through the glass.

The labeling is very nice with strong fonts which are easy to read and which gives the presentation a ‘craft’ feel. The bottom of that label features information about the vodka arctic spring water, its carter head still and the lava rock filtration.

I do have a quibble with the cork topper. The cork is only of medium density and after a few time opening and closing the bottle tiny bits of cork can be seen eroding from the closure.

The First Sip  14.5/20

When I began to taste each spirit I was comparing side by side, I had chilled them to about 1 degrees Celsius. At this temperature Reyka Vodka is thickened and creamy. When I brought it to my nose I noticed a light wisps of citrus zest combined with clean grain spice.

Despite the clean nose, the first sip, brought some unexpected flavours and some vegetal bitterness forward. The flavour took me aback. I suspect that the flavour I encountered was partially due to those natural flavours and extracts which are part of the vodka’s construct. As the spirit warmed the flavours came more into focus reminding me of lightly sweet lemon and lime balsam and white fruit pith. Grain spice and a few hints of mint completed the flavour profile, but unfortunately I did not completely warm up to the spirit as a sipper.

Unfortunately, I could not warm up to the spirit as a sipper.

Taking a Shot 15/20

When I took a full swallow of the cold spirit, the experience was much nicer. That light bitterness associated with the first sip does not follow the spirit down the throat. There was light burn after the ‘shot style’ swallow but it did not cause undue discomfort. The Vodka did however leave a light vegetal aftertaste in my mouth that reminded me of raw cauliflower.

As the spirit warmed that same bitterness I noticed during my first sip began to creep into the aftertaste and firmer lemon balsam flavours came forward. At first blush, the spirit appears to be breaking down although I do not notice any more burn than I did at the cold serving temperature. This perhaps indicates that the light bitterness has more to do with added natural flavour and extracts, than with alcohol burn or a breakdown of the spirit.

(The added natural flavour does not seem to improve the vodka.)

Out for Dinner 15/20

I also sampled Reyka (and the others in the mini tasting competition) with some snacks which included smoked wieners, a variety of cheeses including cheddar, Gouda, and Edam, some fresh-baked bread and buns, breaded spicy chicken wings, and some pepperoni pizza.

I found the Vodka enhanced the spicy foods like the sausages; however, the Vodka itself seemed to pick up odd flavours from the food (especially the bread). Interestingly, when I repeated the food pairings with a friend of mine a few days later, he did not notice these odd flavours and quite enjoyed himself. I noticed them again, and thus I have to reflect that insight in my score.

Cocktails 27/30

At the end each tasting session I mixed a small Vodka Gimlet with each spirit and it was here that Reyka Vodka found complete redemption. To put it simply, the gimlet made with this spirit was by far the best of the four I sampled. It was just lightly sweet and lightly tart at the same time with the fruit flavour popping in the mouth.

Of course, I could not wait to try Reyka in a few more cocktails. I was lightly disappointed when I tried a Dry Vodka Martini; however it was quite nice in a Wet Martini and in Vespers. The Vodka Darby I made was simply exceptional (see recipe below).  My conclusion is that if you use this vodka expression for mixed drinks, it is a wonderful choice.

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Final Score 80/100

Unexciting when served neat or with food; but exceptional in mixed drinks!

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Vodka Reviews.

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Suggested Recipe

Vodka Darby

This cocktail usually uses Gin as its base, but if the soda is not overdone, it is also a nice Vodka Cocktail!

1 1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
1 tsp Sugar Syrup
Splash Soda

Pour the first four ingredients into a metal shaker with ice
Shake until the sides of the shaker are frosted
Strain into a suitable glass
Add a splash of Soda
Enjoy!

Please remember to enjoy my cocktail suggestions responsibly!

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You may (loosely) interpret my score as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing Vodka.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again for cocktails only.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this Vodka in shots, although cocktails are preferable.
85-89    Excellent!  Shots or cocktails!
90-94    You may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 80    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
81 – 89     Silver Medal (Recommended  for shots and mixing cocktails)
90 – 95     Gold Medal (Highly Recommended for Vodka Shots and Sublime Cocktails)
95.5+       Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

 

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