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Einstok, Smoked Porter

Jack Sichterman (co-founder of Einstök ) doesn’t sound very Icelandic. In fact he isn’t, he’s from the USA. Having already had a proper career working with several global brands including a stint with big beer, he and his business partner David Altshuler founded Einstök Ölgerd back in 2010.

I started with asking him what made an American want to start a brewery in Iceland?

“In 2009, I visited Iceland to work on an upstart luxury water product with my business partner, David Altshuler. As part of that process, we visited the natural source of Icelandic water and the purity is incredible – it’s among the best on the planet. Ultimately, I just didn't think the world needed another 15 quid bottle of water, but I did fall in love with Iceland and its people. ”

Having grown up in the American midwest Jack was no stranger to craft beer. However beer in Iceland was a different story entirely. From 1915 until 1989 any beer over 2.25% abv was banned under prohibition. Brewing in Iceland has had a lot of catching up to do. Enter Baldur Karason, Akureyri resident (where the brewery is situated), former head brewer at another Icelandic brewery and graduate of the world renown Heriot Watt University brewing and distilling course. It’s been an award winning combination. Literally.

Between them they have created something that even the Vikings would have been impressed by. Within just five years Einstök has become the No.1 craft beer in Iceland and the No.1 alcoholic beverage export from the country.

But how Icelandic is Einstök?

“Einstök exists because of Iceland, its lore and its people. We have seen that people all over the world are more interested than ever in Iceland and its culture - from its art and music to its Sago lore and its progressive creativity. Our Icelandic BrewMaster, Baldur, is considered the most preeminent brewer in the country and our impact on the local economy has been significant. Make no mistake, Einstök will survive without David or I, but it wouldn’t last a minute without Iceland. “

Einstök translates literally as ‘unique’ or ‘one of a kind’ and a lot is made about this reflecting quality of the water that goes into their beers. Using glacial melt and rain water which has filtered through the lava rick that surrounds the brewery results in something near perfect for making beer with.

But you don’t get this sort of water without challenges. Located in the fishing port of Akureyri the brewery is just shy of being in the arctic circle. So I asked, aside from the advantages of having this incredible water, there must also have been some challenges having a brewery this remote?

“In a lot of ways, Iceland is in the middle of nowhere, but I prefer to think of it as being in the middle of everywhere. Certainly, we have some constraints when it comes to sourcing things like barley and hops locally, but it creates an opportunity for us to then source those ingredients from all over the world. Local does not always mean good - starting with a blank slate, we have the opportunity to pick the best, not necessarily the closest. That said, we are making a serious effort to include native Icelandic adjuncts in our beers going forward, which started with Einstök Arctic Berry Ale, which features tasty bilberries that are hand-picked just north of our brewery, near the Arctic Circle. We are currently experimenting with other local ingredients, including juniper, birch, pine and angelica. ”

And what can you tell us about this week’s beer, the Toasted Porter?

“I hate to pick a favourite among any of our beers, but I have to admit that the Toasted Porter is probably what I drink most frequently. It’s a Baltic-style porter, which uses lager yeast, so it is surprising in many ways. On one hand, it is rich and dark, almost black, so it has the hearty appearance of traditional stouts and porters. On the other hand, it has a crisp mouthfeel and finish that are a reflection of the pure water and our approach to balanced brewing. We use a small amount of coffee from an Icelandic roaster near our brewery, but the real flavor comes from the combination of chocolate and Munich malts with German Northern Brewer hops. ”

And any food pairings?

“The chocolate, licorice and coffee notes are obvious but not overpowering, so the Toasted Porter is great for pairing with several different courses in a meal. For dinner, it pairs perfectly with Icelandic specialties such as lamb chops and roasts (there are more sheep than people in Iceland), hearty meats like steak and short ribs, and as a base for sauces and marinades. Because of its clean finish, it also goes great with fish, including salmon and Icelandic cod. For dessert, it pairs amazingly well with pies, cobblers and cakes and can be an excellent ingredient in the latter. I like to drink mine with dark chocolate and a cigar. ”

The world might not have been ready for a £15 bottle of water but it is ready for Einstök.

Drink. Conquer. Repeat.

 

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