Photo courtesy of DISM.

How the Faroe Islands’ First Spirits Company Changed the Country's Distillation Law

Until very recently, the production of spirits was illegal in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago located between Norway and Iceland. It wasn't until spirits company DISM launched that the country's laws were finally amended.

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May 5 2016, 6:00pm

Photo courtesy of DISM.

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Photo courtesy of DISM.

They drink a lot of aquavit in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago made up of 18 windswept Atlantic islands slung midway between Scotland, Iceland, and Norway. "I actually think we might be the people that drink the most aquavit in the world," says Erling Eidesgaard, founder of DISM, the country's very first spirits company. "If you go to a party here, you are welcomed with a ram's horn filled with aquavit and you have to drink it and give it back to the person at the door. That's the tradition."

Due to a national law prohibiting the production of spirits, that ram's horn was once filled with Danish, Norwegian, or German booze. "And that bothered me," Eidesgaard says. "I thought, Why don't we have one ourselves? That's how the idea [for DISM] was born."

Launched in 2008 with Lívsins Vatn aquavit, DISM has expanded to include a gin, vodka, and HAVIÐ, an aquavit aged six months in sherry casks—reportedly the strongest in the world—picking up awards at IWSC along the way. We caught up with Eidesgaard to find out more.

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A view of the Faroe Islands. Photo by the author.

MUNCHIES: Hi, Erling. DISM began production while it was still illegal to produce spirits in the Faroe Islands. How did you get around that? Erling Eidesgaard: You were not allowed to produce it in the Faroe Islands but you were allowed to sell it. So we started the production in Denmark and made two batches of Lívsins Vatn. Then we moved it to Iceland because we always wanted to use Faroese water, which was not possible in Denmark due to EU regulations against importing water. So, in May 2009, we moved production to Iceland [to the Reyka distillery].

Since the law was repealed in 2012, will you now move production to the Faroe Islands? Not yet. We need to get the facilities in the Faroe Islands, but we are working on that. We want to move it home. The legislation change, I think, was a result of what we did. We highlighted this crazy situation where you were allowed to sell it, you could buy it, you could drink it, but you couldn't produce it in the Faroe Islands. When we started transporting water to Iceland, we got a lot of media coverage at home and in Iceland. Icelanders are always claiming to have the world's best water, but we came to Iceland and brought our own water. Icelanders were laughing because we were bringing water to the land with "the purest water in the world," according to them. In the Faroe Islands, there was immediately political pressure from at least one of the parties. The Republic Party was very much into this and they put a bill forward in 2009 … it eventually went through the Parliament and was passed in 2012.

Why did you not just use Icelandic water? The first reason was to have a Faroese stamp on it. In order to have legitimacy to call it a Faroese product, you have to have some kind of anchor to the Faroe Islands. The company is Faroese, the recipe is Faroese, and we tried to make it as Faroese as much as we could within the reality that we could not do it in the Faroe Islands. We did this so that when we do move production, you won't be able to tell any difference in the product. Icelandic water is neutral while the Faroese water is spicier. You have some minerals from the basalt, which you can taste. It tastes earthy.

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A shipping container is loaded with Faroese water. Photo courtesy of DISM.

There is not much growing in the Faroe Islands. Do you use any other native ingredients in your products? The angelica was the only thing we could find suitable for the aquavit. We also have a gin but, in the Faroe Islands, the juniper is impossible to use as the forest is only around 50 square meters and is protected. There is not much growing in the Faroe Islands. It's mostly grass.

With drinking only becoming legal in 1992, what is the drinking culture like in the Faroe Islands? It was not illegal prior to 1992. It was just a different setup. Every person who paid their taxes and were 18 or older would get permission to buy 12 bottles of 70cl spirits per quarter year. That meant you could buy one bottle a week. People always tried to reach this limit; always buying their weekly bottle per week because otherwise you'd waste your ration. There was also a Danish company called Kattrup, which people could mail-order from. They advertised on the front page of every newspaper.

In 1992, we went to a system where everyone 18 or over could go into a monopoly store and buy as much beer, wine, and spirits as they like. They guys who were against it were expecting everyone to go insane and for the consumption levels to go crazy, but the opposite happened. Consumption went down because people were more relaxed about it, because you now don't need to buy one bottle a week—rather, just buy one when you need it.

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Finnur, a staff member on the bottling line. DISM currently produces its products at the Reyka distillery in Iceland. Photo courtesy of DISM.

What's next for DISM? We are looking to expand. [DISM's products are currently distributed in Iceland, Denmark and Greenland.] Our aged aquavit was very popular in KOKS [the Faroes' acclaimed New Nordic restaurant] and we are doing it again this time with some Jack Daniels casks. It will probably be ready for next Christmas.

Thanks for speaking with me.