Interview with Icelandic whisky Flóki’s Master Distiller Egill Thorkelsson

What does it mean to be Iceland’s distillery? 

Making Whisky in Iceland is great, we have pure Icelandic barley for production and all these great botanicals for Vor Gin & Víti Brennivín, the water here is perfect for distilling, energy is 100% green and quite cheap and we have very talented people to help make this a reality.

Talk me through your journey to date - from idea to soon having mature product.

The idea of making Icelandic Whisky isn´t really that crazy, we´ve been growing barley here in Iceland for many years and it makes sense to transform that into Whisky, but it’s a patience business and requires a lot of ingenuity, perseverance, and tenacity to turn it into a reality, so for going from just having the idea to actually making it you have to be a little bit crazy.

Our journey began in 2009 when we made our first experimental batch, that was made on my brothers’ kitchen table from a couple of kilos of Icelandic barley, where we went through all the steps of creating whisky from “garage floor” malting to aging it with tiny bits of charred oak. First tasting was interesting and included description like; “horrible & undrinkable”, but after a healthy dose of optimism we actually ended up finding some notes that actually resembled Whisky and with that, we set out to make the next batch better.
For the next 4 years we continue with that mindset, make each batch better than the last, all the while experimenting with the brand and slowly building our distillery. The goal was always creating a great Icelandic whisky and each batch we made we brought out for tasting and feedback from friends and family, through this we in a way crowdsourced our recipe.  Then after 4 years and 163 iterations, and a lot of tasting, we then finally reach the recipe we still use for making Flóki.
Our first product Vor hit the shelves early 2014 and our first impression of Flóki Young Malt is bottled in November that year. Over the years we have been expanding our range, adding reserve batches to Vor gin, distilling Víti our Brennivín and releasing our Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve of Flóki. This year we are releasing our first 3-year-old Flóki Single Malt Whisky and the journey is just beginning, we look forward to further development in terms of aging styles and future releases. For example, we are now experimenting with a double wood Flóki, where we take oak from both sides of the ocean for maturing Flóki.

What’s been your best moment so far?

Really from day one, it has always been having people over at the distillery try our products and being amazed by the flavor, receiving feedback and finding favorites. We´ve also been amazed by emails around the world from happy customers.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Its been a journey full of challenges and that is a big part of what makes it fun, in truth the journey of creating a fully functional distillery that is also a successful business is about a lot more than just buying a still. There are little things to learn every step of the way and a seemingly endless line of challenges to overcome.
Going at it our own way from the start with the goal of creating great Iceland whisky was very challenging, however having built Eimverk Distillery from the ground up, grain to glass in Iceland is something that we are proud of.

What are your favorite whiskies?

Besides Flóki, it depends on the time and situation, a nice bourbon sometimes just feels just right and at other times a heavily peated Islay is just what you need. I´m very open to new whiskies and I particularly like exploring world whisky, some of my favorites today are John Paul Peated and Kavalan Solist, I also particularly enjoy the whiskeys from Teeling Distillery.

Tags: Egill ThorkelssonFlokiIceland’s distilleryIcelandic barleyVítiVor Gin
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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