Iceland in Chicago

 

Taste of Iceland has taken over Chicago for a four-day festival of Icelandic cuisine, art and culture.

Among the events was an architecture talk and vodka tasting at Marshall’s Landing in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. The Mart overlooks a splendid view of the riverfront with examples of Chicago’s own stunning architecture just outside the window.

Museum Managing Director Halla Helgadottir. Photo by Reno Lovison
Iceland Design Centre Museum Managing Director Halla Helgadottir. Photo by Reno Lovison

There, we visited a presentation by Halla Helgadottir, Managing Director of the Iceland Design Centre Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland. The Centre has the distinction of being the most visited museum “per capita” of any museum in the world, the joke being that with Iceland’s small population it is estimated that more than 10% of the nation has visited the museum.

Helgadottir shared photos of several of Iceland’s architectural points of interest including the Harpa Concert Hall whose exterior looks as though it has been chiseled out of a giant sold piece of crystal clear ice.

Harpa Concert Hall, an example of Iceland architecture. Iceland Design Centre photo
Harpa Concert Hall, an example of Iceland architecture. Design Centre photo. Iceland.

Conversely, there was a photo of a farm house that was built largely underground and was reminiscent of the dugouts built by prairie pioneers in Kansas and other parts of the Midwest during the great westward expansion in the U.S.

Like the prairie pioneers, the Icelanders have precious little wood so alternative building options are required.

Icelandic design has a refreshing minimalist quality featuring Scandinavian inspired simple lines and shapes accented with cheerful natural colors that stand-out but do not detract from the rugged beauty of the country.

The event festivities featured Reyka, small batch vodka handcrafted in Iceland. Icelandic mixologist “Teitur” was mixing this up into yummy Moscow Mules (Ginger beer and vodka with a dash of bitters) in traditional copper cups, ice cold and refreshing.

Mixologist Teitur Ridderman Schioth at a Taste of Iceland event. Photo by Reno Lovison
Mixologist Teitur Ridderman Schioth at a Taste of Iceland event. Photo by Reno Lovison

I was able to sample the Reyka “neat” as well, described as, “Exceptionally clean and crisp with long lingering notes of fresh citrus and light hints of native moss.”  I found it is not as subtle and smooth as my preferred Belvidere but as a straight-up on the rocks vodka or martini I would recommend this as a satisfying, slightly peppery, interesting alternative.

Teitur also offered a version of the mule mixed with Iceland’s own natural spirit “Brennivin.”  Officially it is an aquavit or akvavit a vodka-like spirit popular in Scandinavian countries. It is distilled from either grain or potatoes.

A Taste of Iceland included drinks with Reyka and Brennivin. Reno Lovison photo
A Taste of Iceland included drinks with Reyka and Brennivin. Reno Lovison photo

After distillation, it is flavored with herbs, spices, or fruit oil. In the case of Brennivin it is made with barley and a little wheat then flavored with caraway which is definitely pronounced and very pleasing to the palate.

Traditionally served as a shot, I would be happy to sip on an icy rocks glass full of Brennivin while soaking in a thermal bath looking out over the Icelandic landscape on a moonlit night.

In the meantime, I am told you can find it for sale at Andersonville Wine and Liquors near the Swedish Museum on Chicago’s north side.

There will also be two Iclandic events April 7: A screening from Iceland’s Short Film Festival at Music Box Theatre at 11:30 a.m. and a concert by  Icelandic Bands JFDR and Sturla Atlas and Chicagoan Ethan Butler at Martyrs’ from 7 to 11.p.m.

To learn more about Iceland, its design and architecture visit IcelandNaturally.

Reno Lovison (RenoWeb.net)

 

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