Iceland's First Distillery is Volcano-Powered (And Stunning)

Glaciers on the ocean.

In the tiny coastal town of Borgarnes, Iceland, set against the stunning majesty of Mt. Hafnarfjall, lies Iceland’s first distillery. Housed in a land of elves and trolls, it’s no surprise that Reyka Icelandic vodka is derived through somewhat mystical means. Reyka harnesses Iceland’s pristine, rugged terrain to create exceptionally pure, crisp vodka -- the kind of stuff that could come only from frigid Arctic spring water, bursting forth into a lava field that dates back more than 4,000 years.

Mt. Hafnarfjall, a volcano streaked with snow, is pictured in the distance. Mt. Hafnarfjall can be seen in the distance from the Reyka distillery.

“Water is the most important ingredient in vodka production. And the Grábrók Spring, filtered by a 4000 year-old lava rock field, has an unparalleled purity that’s perfect for vodka,” says Trevor Schneider, a Reyka Ambassador. “Purer than most bottled waters, this spring water is taken straight from the source and used directly in the distillation of Reyka.”

The rushing waters of a spring.Water from Grábrók Spring is key to the purity of Reyka's taste.

The spring water needs no treatment, sourced from one of the cleanest environments in the world, it arrives at the distillery completely uncontaminated. The water is blended with a barley spirit that is shipped to Reyka from Scotland (where William Grant & Sons, which owns Reyka, is based).

Waterways that surround the Reyka distillery. The water used in Reyka vodka is exceptionally pure.

The difference made by the water is palpable. But it’s not just the Grábrók Spring water that makes Reyka shine; they incorporate Iceland’s splendor in nearly every step of the process, while being mindful of their natural resources.

A geyser shooting water into the air. Iceland's powerful natural resources are captivated in Reyka vodka.

The spring water and spirit are filtered through lava rocks (rather than charcoal), collected from neighboring lava fields. First, the spirit is filtered through the rocks as a vapor. It is then filtered through the rocks a second time as a liquid.

Lava rocks are in a glass case attached to a vodka still. Reyka vodka is purified using locally sourced lava rocks.

“Lava rock filtration is a natural, effective and efficient way to remove impurities from our spirit,” says Schneider. “In addition to purifying the Grábrók Spring, lava rocks play a key role in the distillation process. Placed in a botanical basket, the porous basalt lava rocks naturally filter Reyka.”

A man is pouring vodka onto a lava rock. The master distiller demonstrates how the lava rocks function to remove impurities from the vodka.

The vodka is distilled in one of only six Carter-Head Stills in the world, and the sole Carter-Head being used for distilling vodka. The high level of copper imparts Reyka vodka’s signature smoothness in just one distillation. The structure of the still also allows the distillers to separate out the best portion (the higher-proof heart) of the distillate and discard the rest (the lower-proof head and tail).

A copper Carter-Head Still is pictured.Reyka's Carter-Head Still imparts the vodka's smoothness from its copper piping.

The flavors and extracts found in Reyka are exclusively natural, a vital decision in maintaining the essence of the vodka—there aren’t any additives.

This isn’t a large-scale operation; every distillation lasts about six hours and yields only 1,700 liters, making 255 cases of vodka. With small batches, the distillers are able to pay close attention to every detail of the process, ensuring that the end result is of superior quality.

The vodka is being poured into a beaker. Reyka undergoes rigorous testing.

Vodka is poured into glasses by a metal spout.Each batch is sampled.
The vodka is being poured into a glass from the still. Vodka to be tasted by distillers and tourists alike.

“To keep our vodka (as well as the planet) clean, geothermal energy is used to power the Reyka distillery,” says Trevor Schneider, a Reyka Ambassador. “In fact, our distillery is one of the only geothermal distilleries in the world. Boiling water from the earth is used to preheat our spirit, allowing us to keep the process pollution free.”

The entire inner workings of the distillery are pictured. The entire Reyka distillery is quite small, and thus, produces only small batches of 255 cases per 6-hour distillation.

I.e., the Reyka vodka distillery is powered by the heat of volcanoes, and entirely emission-free. The whole process within the Reyka distillery is powered by clean energy, an admirable feat that yields a premium product. Reyka vodka has earned world recognition with major awards like the 2011 Vodka Trophy by the International Wine and Spirits Competition, a Gold Medal at the 2013 San Francisco Spirits Competition, and the Master award in the Smooth Category and a Silver medal in the Premium Category in the 2014 Spirits Challenge Spirits Business World Vodka Masters.

A small cordial glass that says "Reyka" with vodka in it.A customized cordial glass is provided for tasting at the distillery.
A man named Thordur Sigurdsson is holding a small glass of vodka and talking to people on a distillery tour. Distiller Thordur Sigurdsson leads the tour.
Green valleys and rolling hills in Iceland. If exceptional vodka isn't reason enough to visit, how about the stunning scenery surrounding the Reyka distillery?