The Water in Iceland

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I grew up in California in the 1970s and 1980s. I never really understood water when I was growing up. Water was in the ocean, but you couldn’t drink it because it was too salty. There was water in the garden hose, but that was for hooking up to a sprinkler and playing in. My mother would take water from the tap, but then mix it with instant lemonade powder, or Kool-Aid or something like that. Water wasn’t really something you drank on its own.

It wasn’t until the bottled water craze hit in the late 1980s that I ever considered drinking water – plain water. Because, when you opened up that kitchen faucet in California, you got a nice cold glass of liquid that you couldn’t see through. Liquid that wasn’t colorless, and very possibly might have had little bits of toilet paper floating in it. It didn’t look like something you’d want to put in your mouth.

One of the first times I visited Europe, I found myself in Zurich, Switzerland – dying for a glass of water after a long climb up a hill to the hostel I was staying in. Against my better Californian judgement I poured a glass from the tap and to my surprise found it more than drinkable – it was quite delicious. I remember coming home and telling everyone that would listen that the most incredible thing I saw while there was that you could actually drink the water in Switzerland from the tap! I’ve since moved to Oregon, where the water is pretty good and we all drink it from the tap with only the mildest of reservations.

I’m really not a fan of cheesy marketing gimmicks and am always a pretty skeptical guy, especially considering I work in the drinks trade. So when I met the people from Martin Miller’s Gin in New Orleans this summer, my cynical side kicked in and I told them I loved the gin but wasn’t buying the whole Icelandic water bit on the back of the bottle. Later they invited me to come to Iceland and drink a glass of water with them.

And I found that Icelandic water really is pretty incredible. Apparently the closest you’ll find to the original recipe of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen, there is something along the lines of 5 parts per million other stuff in there with the H and the O. I drank it in my coffee in the morning, I filled bottles from the tap and took it on excursions with me during the day, and guzzled it at night with dinner to stay hydrated after all those Martinis. I even sat in it while snowmobiling.

They took me to the site of their spring, where the water flows out of the mountains and into an aquifer, which is then pumped (note the little shed) to the bottling plant in Borgarnes. And then the gin is shipped to the US and the UK, which is where the story of Martin Miller’s gin ends.

It’s simple, really. It’s amazing gin made by a brilliant distiller, cut with really excellent water, and sold by some really good people. Not a bad way to spend a week.

10 Replies to “The Water in Iceland”

  • I lived in alaska for about 15 years, and if I’m not mistaken, Anchorage had the cleanest tap water of any municipality in North America, so I understand the value of clean water.

    That said, I think this is still just marketing. For the price of shipping their gin round trip to Iceland, they could take water from the London sewer system and via reverse osmosis and various other filtration and distillation methods, bring it to a contaminant level of about 5 parts per trillion and use it to cut their gin. Thats about the purity level of the water steam plants use to generate electricity. (It’s cheaper to purify the water before boiling it off than clean the scaling that develops on the walls of the boilers if you don’t.)

    But, maybe Martin Miller wants to fly me to Iceland to convince me I’m wrong.

  • Donny says:

    I grew up in a small mountainside town in Australia where the air and water were extremely pure. Now I live in a majopr European city and boy can you tell the difference…I don’t think i will ever get used to that chlorine taste and chalky mouthfeel.

    How many other brands market on the pureness of their water???? I know 42 Below Vodka does.

  • Mixology says:

    @Donny Sounds very much like London.

    I have to say: the worst experience I had so far was at TOC in New Orleans.

    The tap/gun/ice cube water (you can’t really avoid it if you want a chilled drink) in New Orleans is so full of chloride taste, that I went for beer rather than cocktails at the end of that week.

    TOC was having Gin & Chlorid instead of Gin & Tonic. I was happy there was some Fever Tree around…

    The best tap water I’ve come across was in Vienna, Austria (ca. 1,5 million inhabitants). They have an aquifer pipe system that collects water from 7 springs in the Styrian mountains and channels it over a couple of hundred miles right into the city.

    Iceland definitely has one of the least polluted environments. I remember doing a rafting trip there, where our guides stopped at a hot spring. They brought out some chocolate powder and served us hot chocolate with the water, that was coming right off the ground. It was amazing. Probably something you should have had on the glacier, Jeffrey.

    I got this in a newsletter today the way:

    http://www.tapdny.com/

    Purified tap water from NYC.

  • Great series of posts, Jeffrey… great writing, great photography…. and by the sounds of it, a great time. I’m a pretty ‘effin jealous barkeep.

  • rhesuspieces00 – I suppose it would be marketing, if your idea of marketing is not saying “Made from sanitized London sewer water.” One other benefit of bottling in Iceland, I learned, is that they are able to ship to both the United States and the United Kingdom from a central mid-Atlantic location. So I don’t think it’s all hooey.

    Keith – Thanks, man. It was a fun and educational trip for me. I wish you could have been there.

  • Great write up, Jeffrey!

    But I am also sceptical!
    Shipping water for a spirit increases massively the carbon footprint! In times like that, we should think about not to do so!

    I also grown up with clean water [actually I grown up in a small town in the German alps] – and of course I see the big gap between pristine water like that and the Californian brew, which you were grown up with. But if we are not carefully, we will nowhere have any drinkable water; some of our cities will be flooded; some areas will be envir. desertificated – I try to avoid what ever I can to trade in good sounding marketing for a better future…

  • Jeff Frane says:

    I may be confused, but got the distinct impression Miller wasn’t shipping water anywhere, but rather shipping distillate to Iceland and then shipping gin to their markets, just as any other distillery does with their product.

    And, Jeffrey, I drink Portland tap water every day with no trepidation at all. Bull Run water is some of the cleanest (and softest) water available.

  • It’s true, it’s only the distillate that is being shipped to Iceland, then cut with water.

  • Dina says:

    Who knew being a bartender would give one such great traveling opportunities?!
    I should have listened to Mom–yes my mother told me to be a bartender, I didn’t listen.

    Jeff, thanks for sharing your fun with us.

  • Thanks, Dina! It’s been a very good year so far.

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