Now, we have talked about beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, we have talking about exploring by campervan, and top cool things to do in Iceland, among which is tasting Icelandic beers. All in the name getting the full cultural experience of course. With that in mind and playing guinea pig for my readers, below is everything you need to know about the best beers in Iceland that you will no doubt have to check out while exploring the land of fire and Iceland.
Everything you need to know about Iceland’s beer history and unique culture
Scandinavian countries are known for being expensive, but hopefully, as you save money on the cheapest places to dine in Reykjavik, you can put your savings towards a pin of beer. Even better of course and more cost-efficient is doing on of the beer tours in Iceland. Also check out my guide to the best beers in Norway.
Icelandic Beer History
We all hear about Iceland and its majestic landscapes, northern lights, glaciers and other wonders of nature. However, those are not the only things that can surprise you in the country full of wonders. Despite its small population, there is a magnificent and flourishing beer culture in Iceland.
In 1915, a total ban on wine, beer and spirits was put in place. The one on wine, for some reason, was lifted in 1922 and on spirits in 1935, and beer was only made legal in 1989, on the premise that easily accessible beer is a risk to the young population as well as workers, as it would tempt them into heavy drinking. Luckily, the ban didn’t last forever and was nowhere near erasing beer from Icelandic hearts, being of Viking descent.
Taste the Saga and beer substitute when beer was illegal
If you happen to be in Iceland and want to learn more about the curious history of beer in Iceland, make sure to attend “Taste the Saga” – an evening of drinks and exploration of the history of beer at Reykjavik’s Ölgerdin brewery. You can actually try the “beer substitute” that was created to crunch that thirst while the ban on beer was in place. This is a proof that beer lovers did not sit idly by such a grievance and used different ways to avoid the ban, with some people even making their own beers at home illegally. What makes you a bigger beer lover than risking your freedom in order to have it?
The substitute was rather disgusting, especially when compared with a real one, as it was made simply by taking a low alcohol beer (beers up to 2.2% strength were allowed in Iceland) and putting a shot of the Icelandic schnapps Brennivín into it. That did the job but did nothing for those with a passion for good beer.
For a country in which beer had been banned until the 1st of March 1989, the nation has been quick to catch up with other countries with old beer traditions and now produces a wide variety of craft beers. Even nowadays, the alcohol industry is pretty tightly regulated by the government, which also runs liquor stores – the only places to buy alcohol in Iceland.
Today the Icelandic beer industry is booming with the arrival of craft beer and the growth of local micro-breweries. Festivals and events related to beer are frequent throughout the country. They have moved on from “fake beer” onto real beer, while contribute to Icelandic beer culture by offering a higher quality product. In the capital, you can even find barbershops where you can have a good local beer while you’re being pampered.
Another factor that has made this local consumption grow is the implementation of what they call “happy hour”. A few years ago, Icelanders regularly drank the typical industrial lager at their homes and private parties and tended to go out very late to visit the city’s entertainment venues. Today many bars and restaurants offer “happy hour” during the day, so more people enjoy beverages earlier on in the day. In this way, the bars also make sure the premises are full from earlier hours and that the night lasts longer.
Some of the popular and best-known Icelandic Beers
Some of the best-known beers in Iceland are Egils, Gull, Thule, and Viking, but in recent years, independent breweries have sprung up across the country producing high-quality beers. Located about 96 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, in the fishing village of Akureyri, the Einstök brewery uses pure water from a glacier to brew a refreshing variety of craft beers. There are also other curious places to try beer in Iceland.
In Árskógssandur, in the north of the country, visitors can bathe in a bathtub full of warm beer, water, yeast and hops at the Bjórböðin beer spa, which is part of Bruggsmidjan Kaldi Brewery, the oldest craft brewery in Iceland founded in 2006 for the marriage formed by Agnes and Ólafur. Whether you are doing 2 days or 10 this is not be missed on any Iceland itinerary.
Egils Gull (5.0%)
Offers you a traditional, crisp lager experience. Golden colour, small white head, light toasted malt nose, grainy aroma and fresh lemony hops in the mouth. It is brewed in the style of pale Munich-lagers from pilsner malt, locally grown barley and pure Icelandic water. No wonder Gull has received a number of prizes, including the “World’s Best Standard Lager” at the World Beer Awards 2011. Gull is one of Iceland’s best know brands and has been enjoyed by Icelanders since March 1st 1989, when the 70 year beer prohibition in Iceland was lifted.
Deriving its name from the classical word for Iceland, ‘Ultima Thule’, this is now one of the Iceland’s most popular beers. With medium bitterness, an agreeable flavour of hops and a pleasant aftertaste, Thule Export beer seeks its origins to the family of Pilsen beers. It has a pale golden colour and an alcohol content of 5% by volume. Thule is, without doubt, the most amazing beer in the world.
Kaldi Dark (5.0%)
Kaldi dark is the second beer that Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi brought to the market. This dark pilsner has very darkbrown color and a lot of character with roasted malt and caramel flavour.
There is also a place called “Kaldi bar” in the capital. It is a lovely bar with four of the renowned local beer “Kaldi” on the tap, including an unfiltered one that the beer lovers praise to the roof. The selection of Icelandic beers on tap should be a reason enough. There are happy hours between 16-19 each day and a special offers on sandwiches and beer. The place is decent and the service is mostly friendly.
Einstök White Ale (5.2%)
A super refreshing, easy to drink wheat beer with a hint of coriander & orange. How delicious does that sound?
Viking Gylltur (5.6%)
Víking Gylltur is a classic lager beer, brewed in the Old-school tradition of craftsmanship. Proven brewing methods make it a refreshing premium beer with a refined finish. Víking Golden lager is an internationally recognized quality beer that has received Monde Selection gold medals in 1992, 2002 and 2003.
Another curiosity of Icelandic beer is the “whale beer” made by the Steðja Brewery, founded in 2012 in the town of Borgarbyggd, on the west coast of Iceland. This brewery has produced several beers flavoured with different parts of the whale, such as its Hvalur 2 (5.1%), a beer that is made at a very specific time of year and is infused with smoked whale testicles. It is undoubtedly a beer that generates a lot of curiosity to try it but that has also brought it certain criticism from environmental and animal groups.
Iceland Annual Beer Festival
The Icelandic Annual Beer Festival is an annual celebration of beer freedom with a four day festival starring the best of the Icelandic beer trade along with selected international ones. This is due to the prohibition in Iceland which went into effect in 1915 and lasted until st of March 1989. Since then this day has been celebrated as “Beer Day”, and from 2012 it has been a 4 day feast.
At the festival, you can taste the festival beers and get an intimate access to the people behind them. Also included is access to an exclusive final event in the city of Reykjavík that’ll include live music, exclusive beers and beer oriented menu.
For more information, check their website.
All in all, it is clear that Iceland’s beer game is pretty strong, with a culture that is as unique as all the flavours that you can discover!
As Icelanders say when they raise glasses, “Skál“!
Heading To Iceland? Also Read:
- What To Pack For Iceland
- Why Summer Is The Best Time To Visit Iceland
- The Best Thermal Clothing To Pack For Iceland
- Where To Stay In Reykjavik
- Why You Shouldn’t Miss Harpa Building In Reykjavik
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