I’ve never been to Iceland, but a couple turns of fate brought two Icelandic sodas to my attention. Fresh out of college I took an accountant position in an investment office and carried out the next 9.5 years of my career working under the same CFO. Not long after I left to join a software start-up my former boss moved his family to Iceland. We caught up during one of his recent trips back to the states and he was incredibly generous to smuggle me some sodas in his luggage.
Both the Appelsín and Maltextrakt sodas come from the same brewery. Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson has been in operation since 1913 (albeit with various organizational changes). Egils Maltextrakt was one of their first beverages and maintains a high degree of popularity. I’ll cover that one second. Egils Appelsín came about in the 1950’s and was my clear favorite of the two.
Appelsín is the Icelandic word for “orange” so it shouldn’t surprise you that this is a fairly straightforward orange flavored soda. Straightforward doesn’t mean boring, though. This stuff is great. The orange flavor was so clean and bright without the syrupy sweetness of most American orange sodas. It reminded me a bit of the Phillip’s Orange Cream (but without the cream). To compare it to something more common…maybe somewhere between a Jarritos Mandarina, an Orangina, and a Fanta Orange? I haven’t reviewed any of those, so use your imagination. It’s more carbonated and less sweet than those three, and definitely less pulpy than Orangina (pronounced like Gina Davis, not like…anatomy).
It sounds like hyperbole, but this was honestly one of the best sodas that I’ve every had. The slogan “hid eina sanna” or roughly, “the one and only” is spot on. It’s so rare to find something with such a natural but still vibrant flavor, the right amount of fizz, and a subdued sweetness. I’m willing to give it a 9.5 out of 10 on my rating scale but could be persuaded up to a 10 if the fine people at Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson invited me over for a brewery tour.
Maltextrakt was a very different experience. To understand it you have to remember that it comes from a time period when carbonated beverages were considered as more of a pharmaceutical rather than a treat. Taste preference has shifted a bit over the past 100 years, and now we expect something sweeter. And not gross. Maltextrakt is not sweet, and it is gross, but somehow the people of Iceland still love it. As you’d guess from the name this soda is derived from malted grains which means it tastes and smells like a weak beer.
I didn’t like it, but you might. The flavor is somewhat sour and bready. I’ve reviewed similar beverages in the past and I didn’t find this anymore redeeming than Malta or Kvass. You’d almost expect it to be salty. Like a barley soup? All that being said, a friend of mine enjoyed it so I’m going to leave this to personal preference. Maybe someday I’ll build a tolerance, but for now it’s a 2.5 out of 10.
No Christmas would be complete without mixing the delicious orange Appelsín with the horrific Maltextrakt, right? I kid you not, that is exactly what they do in Iceland. Like a demented Arnold Palmer people concoct mocktails of 1 part Appelsín and one part Maltextrakt and pretend that this is a normal holiday tradition. You can adjust the ratios to taste, but the idea remains the same. You’re ruining a perfectly good orange drink with a perfectly bad lightly fermented sprouted grain drink. The Appelsín definitely improves the Maltextrakt, but it would be almost impossible to be worse. What’s even more mind boggling is that the brewery produces cans of this combination premixed for your convenience. The can makes it clear what’s happening. What it doesn’t make clear is why you should drink this rather thank straight up Appelsín. It’s a 3 out of 10 for me. I could learn to like it, but I’m choosing not to.
That’s the extent of my Icelandic soda exploration. One of these days I’d really like to make a trip over and see this beautiful country first hand. Huge thanks to my former boss for providing me with the beverages, and a future thank you to Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson for flying me out to Iceland to see the brewery in person (hint hint). I’m sure with enough exposure I could learn to love Maltextrakt.
Sampled April 2019