Juniper, Iceland’s only native evergreen tree, commonly grows in lava fields and scrubland. In Iceland’s harsh natural environment, the common juniper (Juniperus communis) is tough, growing slowly and surely into a low, hardy shrub.
Its sharp needles are used to make a refreshing, healthful tea, and they may also be burned to give a cosy, Christmassy scent.
Juniper berries take two years to ripen, if weather conditions are favourable, and hence they are difficult to gather.
In the first summer the berries are green, while in the second year they ripen to a deep blue. And juniper berries are well worth waiting for. During the long process of ripening they take on a powerful, ambrosial flavour. In olden times juniper berries were used for medicinal purposes, as they were said to have purifying powers.
Juniper Schnapps from 64° Reykjavik Distillery is produced in limited quantities, and each bottle is labelled with the year, the distillation, and the bottle number. Juniper schnapps is good for shots, on the rocks, or in a variety of mixed drinks and cocktails.
The flavour has something in common with gin, but here the pure, clear juniper taste comes into its own.