Typically my liqueur reviews are based on local specialty drinks we’ve discovered during our travels. This review still fits that category, but with one small caveat: this liqueur wasn’t actually made in the country we purchased it in. I will explain.
On our recent stop over in Iceland, we found a liquor store. As we perused the shelves for something interesting, this bottle jumped out:
It’s a herb liqueur called Valhalla. But it doesn’t originate from Iceland. It’s actually manufactured in Finland. We bought it anyway, and I decided after trying it for the first time last night, that it was worthy of a review.
Valhalla, the liqueur, is made by a company in Finland called Koskenkorva, which is also the name of the clear spirit drink that they distill. This koskenkorva clear spirit is the base for Valhalla. It’s blended and distilled with several herbs, including angelica, artemesia and achillea millefolium. I’ve heard of angelica and artemesia before, but I had to look up achillea millefolium. It’s more commonly known as yarrow.
Valhalla, the place, is the Norse version of heaven, reserved for the greatest warriors, kings and heroes. Valhalla, of course is ruled by the god Odin. (We’ve all seen Thor, we know what’s what.) The liqueur’s full description is “Valhalla – The Spirit of Nordic Legends.” Get it? Spirit?
The symbol on the bottle is called the Vegvisir. It’s a Nordic signpost – a magical compass that helps the bearer find their way in rough weather. Interestingly, most research seemed to indicate that this is an Icelandic symbol, not Finnish. It was only found in an Icelandic grimoire called the Galdrabók (the Book of Magic), written sometime between 1550 and 1650. As a side note, this was long after the Viking Age actually ended. Hmmm….
The website for Valhalla is nothing short of brilliant, and so far one of the better websites I’ve seen for a liqueur. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Brotherhood, character, heroism, strength and resilience…it has all the makings of a great legend. Plus, there’s video, which you can see here: http://www.valhallaspirit.com/the-film/
I know that we already have the Vikings tv show (which I love), but seriously they could turn this ad into a tv show or movie, and I would watch the hell out of it. I could watch Ponytail Guy (aka the Middle Brother/Brooding Botanist) grind herbs in slow motion for an embarrassingly long amount of time.
Ok, it has a cool bottle, a fun website, and a well thought-out back story. But what does it taste like?
The official website describes the flavour as “strong, gently bitter, sweet, rough, and complex with a fresh after taste.” Valhalla does have liquorice as a main flavouring, and it’s the first one that you’ll immediately identify. But unlike the salty liquorice notes of Drop Shot, for example, this is a sweet black liquorice. Honestly, before I even took my first sip, I sat with the glass in my hand and sniffed at it like a bloodhound for a good twenty minutes. It’s so aromatic, that if the company decided to make this into a perfume I would buy it immediately. You don’t get too much heat from the alcoholic base, so the liquorice and herbal fragrances really step to the forefront.
The three herbs used – angelica, artemesia and achillea millefolium (yarrow) all have a bitter flavour. This bitterness hits you after you swallow, and it tends to linger on the palate. It’s not overwhelming or offensive, but it was definitely a surprise the first time. It reminds me vaguely of absinthe (which makes sense, since artemesia, aka wormwood, is used as an ingredient in absinthe) but this is much more mild and palatable.
Valhalla also has a beautiful caramel colour, almost like a dark rum. Look how it clings to the sides of the glass as though it’s trying to hold on for dear life. Which is perhaps how you’ll feel if you drink too much of this!
The company was even thoughtful enough to include a bit of reading material on the back of the bottle:
This is the kind of liqueur that could disappear very quickly if you’re not careful, but the bitterness prevents you from guzzling it. It’s definitely a nice sipper on a cold night while binge-watching Vikings though.