I first fell in love with Birkir when a good friend shared the birch snaps with me upon returning from Iceland. I was instantly enamored with the uniqueness of the spirit — a warmth and softness that I did not expect were at the center of a familiar but ineffable flavor that quickly immersed me in memories of childhood afternoons spent in the birch groves of suburban Moscow.
Now, given that most people didn’t share my particular childhood - I was curious to see what other people I know thought upon tasting Birkir for the first time. The range of responses did not disappoint: “It tastes like running through a springtime forest,” “a warm mountain cabin,” and “a picnicking afternoon,” — it seems that some form of back-to-nature comfort is on the tip of the tongue for many first time tasters. “I wanted to capture the sensation of the bright Icelandic summer night,” writes Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, one of the creators of Björk and Birkir, "at the moment when the rain shower clears and the morning dew sets on the birch clad hill. I think I came pretty close,” — a sentence that may sound contrived to the yet unconverted, but given the previously mentioned responses, seems to have a resonant truth to it.
Björk, Birkir’s almost literal, naturally sweeter sister (Birkir and Björk are the respective male and female variants of the icelandic word for ‘birch’) and Birkir are indeed closely related. The parent of both is a grain distillate with Icelandic birch sap added. Birkir Snaps stays at the higher 36% ABV (though a highly deceptive one, as the its silky smoothness and light honey sweetness can easily mislead and present as a much more innocent spirit), while Björk Liqueur comes in at a lower 27.5% ABV and significantly more pronounced sweetness. Both are lovely to enjoy on their own terms as sippers; Birkir as a reliable, quirkier understudy to a favorite soft, sweeter whiskey, while Björk sings all the right notes for a post dinner dessert liqueur.
While the woody, barky flavors of this duo can easily sprout in a wide range of classic cocktails, and the Foss distillery provides a curated grove of their own lovely suggestions, there is one particular quality to Birkir that I found especially useful. The unique taste of fresh wood seems to exist somewhere on the back of the tongue and at the finish, which makes it perfect for mixing with spirits with a strong entry, and for rounding out a cocktail (similar to the role that Chartreuse can play in a citrus cocktail). However, since Birkir’s flavor can be easily muted by bolder flavors, I found simplicity to be pretty key: combining Birkir with a favorite woody whiskey makes for a very well rounded experience as the barrel aged notes of the whiskey end with a warmth of fresh birch (a cocktail metaphor for the circle of life?). My favorite combination so far has been with this Cherrywood Rye from Sonoma County Distillery.
2 oz Cherrywood Rye
0.5 oz Birkir
Stir with ice, strain
Birkir and Björk beg to be shared, in part because of their uniqueness, but in larger part, because there is something cozy about them. A drink most at home in a home, with a small group of friends - which isn’t that surprising given that it comes from the region of the world that has also given us wonderful concepts like “hygge”.
So pick up your bottles today, $39.50, and get cozy.