Icelandic Whisky Seeks Protected Status

FLóki Whisky

Icelandic distillery Eimverk has applied for protected status for the product name “Icelandic whisky.” Bændablaðið reports that the application was received by Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) in September and is being processed. If granted, the designation would limit which products could be labelled “Icelandic whisky,” reserving the term only for those produced in Iceland with local ingredients.

Eimverk distillery, founded in 2009, produces Icelandic liquors from local ingredients. Their single-malt Flóki whisky is produced locally in small batches using only Icelandic barley and Icelandic spring water.

Read more on Eimverk distillery’s Flóki whisky production

In December 2014, the Icelandic parliament enacted the Product Names Protection Act, which allows for the protection of product names on the basis of origin, territory, or traditional uniqueness. Such laws, often manifested as Designation of Origin, are widespread in Europe, where they are often applied to artisanal products such as French champagne and Spanish ham.

If it received protected status, Icelandic whisky would be the third product to do so. Icelandic traditional sweaters, known as lopapeysur, received that status earlier this year and Icelandic lamb was granted the distinction in 2019.

Icelandic Wool Export Up 70% in Pandemic

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Icelandic lopi wool export has shot up by 70%, RÚV reports. Lopi is the yarn used to make Icelandic traditional sweaters, or lopapeysur, and is known for being both warm and waterproof. While several European countries have been importing Icelandic wool in larger quantities, it seems that knitters are picking up their needles in Iceland as well.

It’s not surprising that the pastime of knitting has grown in popularity this year, thanks to social restrictions and lockdowns imposed due to the pandemic. Yet an increase of 70% is quite a rise for Iceland’s main wool processer. “We are almost sending out one or two forty-feet containers of hand-knitting yarn per week,” says Sigurður Sævar Gunnarsson, director of Ístex, which processes about 99% of all Icelandic wool.

In order to meet demand, Ístex has hired more workers to cover evening shifts. The company hopes to increase production by 100 tonnes by next year. While Icelanders, Germans, Swedes, and Norwegians have all shown an increased appetite for Icelandic wool and knitting patterns, Finnish knitters have shown a particular enthusiasm.

Sigurður says Ístex has been receiving calls from lopapeysa knitters who can’t find a particular colour when it has been sold out in shops.

Iceland’s Embla Joins Siri and Alexa

Embla virtual assistant

Icelandic speakers will soon have their own virtual assistant in their language – Embla. The app is the first of its kind  to understand and speak the Icelandic language. Embla is answering a widespread call for integrating the Icelandic language into technology. RÚV reported first.

Embla speaks Icelandic and she knows quite a bit. She can tell users the opening hours of shops, when the next bus is coming, and can even tell jokes. Like her “colleagues” Siri and Alexa, Embla doesn’t have the answer to every single question, but she can search through Wikipedia.

“There’s a demand for it, people talk a lot more to their devices,” stated Katla Ásgeirsdóttir, one of the app’s designers at startup Miðeind. “Children do this a lot, talk to computers and phones. And people speak English or other languages because Icelandic hasn’t been available. To have such technology on the consumer market is important for us and it’s not a moment too soon.”

The virtual assistant app has been in development for over a year and a half and is supported by a government initiative to integrate the Icelandic language into digital technology. It will become available to Android and Apple users in the coming days.

Iceland to Implement Colour-Coded COVID-19 Warning System

A map of Iceland showing orange alerts in Northeast and east Iceland as well as yellow alerts for northwest Iceland, the eastfjords, southeast Iceland and the central highlands

A simple COVID-19 warning system will soon inform Icelanders of the current risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus in each region of the country. Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management is developing a straightforward colour code using grey, yellow, orange, and red to reflect the pandemic risk level across the country. The system will be based on the Icelandic Met Office’s weather warning system, pictured above. Vísir reported first.

Meant to Increase Predictability

The goal of the new national warning system is to increase the predictability of restrictions and other measures that need to be implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the new warning system, grey will represent the “new norm,” where few cases are being diagnosed domestically or at the borders. Grey also indicates that distancing regulations apply as guidelines rather than mandatory rules.

A yellow warning will mean “be on your guard” and will indicate mandatory gathering and distancing restrictions are in place due to group outbreaks or some risk of an increase in community transmission. An orange warning will correspond to “increased risk” and indicate strain on the healthcare system and a risk of exponential growth in cases. While an orange warning is in effect, tight gathering limits will be in place and the public is asked to limit contact with those outside their inner circle.

Red will be the highest warning level, indicating “high risk.” A red warning would indicate an uncontrolled spread of the virus and the healthcare system at capacity. At this level, the public would be asked to stay within their inner circle of contacts and fairly tight restrictions would be in place.

Green Colour Avoided

The Civil Protection Department purposely avoided using the colour green in the new system. The use of green in a similar warning system in Norway appears to have encouraged the public to let down their guard more than is desirable. The grey colour in the Icelandic system will indicate that the public must continue to practice disease prevention pay attention to hygiene, and take care in social contact with strangers, despite low case numbers.

The system is in its final stages of development and will be discussed at a meeting between the Chief Epidemiologist and the Department of Civil Protection today.

Icelandic Publishers Optimistic About Christmas Book Flood

iceland books

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Icelandic publishers are not especially worried sales will drop during this year’s Christmas Book Flood, RÚV reports. While restrictions limit the number of shoppers in bookstores, sales remain steady, and many locals are turning to online stores to buy the books on their Christmas shopping list.

Icelanders have a long-standing tradition of giving books as Christmas presents. Publishers have supported this trend for decades with a flurry of new books released in the months leading up to Christmas. This surge in new titles is known as Jólabókaflóðið or the Christmas Book Flood. As the nation flocks to bookstores, the period is not only one of increased literary and cultural discussion – it’s also financially crucial for many publishers, who rely on sales during the flood to stay afloat.

“There is so much uncertainty that both are possible. You can be optimistic or you can be pessimistic,” stated Guðrún Vilmundardóttir head of publishing company Benedikt bókaútgáfa. “It’s much better for the soul and the nerves to be optimistic so I’m just going to allow myself to be that.” Guðrún says there has been significant interest in Benedikt’s newest titles and online sales are promising.

Read More: Icelanders Opt for Audiobooks During Pandemic

Borgar Jónsteinsson is director of sales at Penninn-Eymundsson, Iceland’s largest bookstore chain. “You could say the action hasn’t started yet,” he told reporters. “But book sales are nice and even and pretty much on par with the same time last year,” Borgar stated. “I’m very optimistic because I also see that publishing is good now.”

Read More: Record Number of Icelandic Books Published in 2019

Recent history also suggested there are reasons for booksellers to be optimistic despite the economic situation. Books sold well in Iceland in 2008 and 2009, during the recession that followed the banking collapse. Perhaps Icelanders will also turn to the deep-seated tradition of book-giving this Christmas as well.