Food

A Runtur in Reykjavik

Canadian Living
Food

A Runtur in Reykjavik

A strong tradition of temperance, (prohibition existed in Iceland until 1922 and the prohibition on beer was only lifted in 1989) makes for an interesting drinking experience in Icelandic culture. Beer is widely available but it is not widely consumed and does not fall into the tradition of Northern Europe's diverse, full bodied brews. The Icelanders embrace a drinking culture, but for the most part it is derived from home brew and the traditional caraway flavoured schnapps called Brennivin, otherwise known as Black Death. The predominant aspect of the Icelandic drinking culture has to be the runtur. At around 11 p.m. every Saturday night in Reykjavik the bars stay open all night and people line up at each one and embark on an all night crawl from pub to bar to club, tasting a little flavour of each before moving on to the next. The normally orderly, pristinely clean streets are transformed with pulsing crowds of people and are littered with evidence of an all-night, raucous, municipally sanctioned house party. In the country side of Iceland, the runtur is marked by cars cruising up and down small town streets. Iceland is an expensive place so most drink at home and then head out, hence the reason for the late start on the Reykjavik runtur. Iceland's current economic situation, however, makes the trek much more economically appealing to foreigners. There are quite a few pubs in Reykjavik due to the large number of international and especially British travellers that visit and do business here. However, I quickly learned to stay away from beers on tap since they are not being consumed at a rate that would enable a fresh, effervescent and tasty experience. Similarly, following a number of cocktail mishaps, I discovered that the concept of a cocktail is a pretty new one in Iceland. So what do the Icelanders drink on a runtur? Well, there is always the traditional Black Death which seems to be an indulgence of many, but I would not recommend as an all night imbibe unless you have a gut like a steel trap. The other drink of choice is Reyka, the locally distilled brand of vodka. This became my drink of choice as well. It's great vodka with a slightly floral character that was really delicious straight up or on the rocks. I had the opportunity to visit the distillery and met master distiller Kristmar Olafsson, who described the distilling process. What sets this vodka apart is that it is made with the fantastic spring water of Iceland and is filtered through lava rocks. The water in Iceland is naturally filtered through lava rocks as well and it imparts a distinct flavour, it has a floral bouquet with a bit of a vanilla quality. Reyka is a small distillery, but it is available in Canada as well. If you like to drink your vodka straight I would recommend you give it a try. I really loved it and, embracing the Icelandic runtur tradition, drank much more of it than was necessary. At the very least you must visit the Reyka website, they have fantastic marketing and the website is hilarious and full of Icelandic trivia. Click here to sign up for Christine's Food for Friends e-newsletter!
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A Runtur in Reykjavik

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