Skal! The Icelandic beer scene

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I’ve been to Iceland a few times now (2006, 2007 and 2010).  Back in 2010 the only beer I recollect being widely available was Viking which is their standard big brand lager, it’s mild and crisp – pretty good to enjoy after mowing the lawn on a hot day.  It’s perfectly ok but boring after a few days.  So I was delighted when I went last week to find Iceland has gone beer mad.  There are now five microbreweries in the country and four craft beer bars in Reykjavik alone. Which, if you’ve ever been there, is a good amount for how small a place it is.

Iceland has a funny relationship with beer.  It was only legalised in 1989 having been banned in 1915 during prohibition (even though hard liquor had been legalised in 1933).  They thought that as it was cheap the poor and children would drink it.  I went on a tour called taste the saga where Iceland’s history with alcohol is explained in the Olgerdin Brewery (plus you get to drink a lot of beer).  I highly recommend this, Sylvia the guide is hilarious.  You can book the tour here

The tour is held in the tasting room of the Olgerdin Brewery. They are the oldest brewers in Iceland, they also produce soft drinks and Brennivin.  It’s a huge place.

Borg beer range
Borg beer range
Brew kit
Brew kit

Also based in Olgerdin is Borg, their smaller craft brewery.  I fell in love with Borg’s beer whilst I was there. Their beers are numbered from 1 to 33.  Number 1 being Brio, an award winning lager named after a customers friend who passed away.  It has a picture of him on the label. I sampled many of their beers out there including Snorri which is number 10, it’s a beer brewed with arctic thyme, it’s incredibly beautiful and the thyme is not too overpowering.  I also had Number 30 which is Surtur, a smoked Russian Imperial Stout.  This was probably my favourite beer of the whole trip.  It was so rich, strong coffee but intensely smokey. I found out after the malt is smoked over sheep poo!  Other notable mentions are the Freki Brett and Solvieg, great summer beers.

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Reykjavik’s craft beer bars

As I mentioned before, Reykjavik now has four craft beer bars.  They are Skuli, Microbar, Kaldi and Mikeller & Friends.

Skuli Craft

Skuli are great, we went here the most.  The space is nice and they have an outdoor courtyard. They have mainly Icelandic on tap but also have the odd Mikeller or To Ol.  They have a vast bottle range including Prairie, Brewdog, Cantillon, Nogne, Logsdon, Founders, Omnipollo, De Molen, Rodenbach and Westveleteren 12 for £25 a bottle. They do a deal on a tasting flight which is pretty good.  We had Borg Solvieg, Borg Nordic Saison, Borg Mykvi Porter, Mikeller Mosiac, To Ol Reperations and Mikeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (bloody lush btw).

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Microbar

Microbar is hidden in a hotel so it’s not immediately obvious it’s there. The atmosphere is not as good and unfortunately not all the taps were on. They had Icelandic beers on tap, we sampled a few including Olvisholt’s Lava which is a smoked Imperial Stout inspired by the views of Hekla from the brewery.

Kaldi Bar

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Kaldi is the bar from the Bruggsmidjan Brewery who are based in the North. It was opened by a couple in 2005.  Their beer is called Kaldi. The bar is pretty cool and has a sunny outdoor garden.  They often have a couple of things on happy hour deals which is great in Iceland as it can get expensive. They produce a small range of beers Kaldi which is a Czech style Pilsner, Kaldi Dark which I think was a dunkel and a beer called Gulfoss which I didn’t get to have.  The bar often has experiments on tap, I had a porter whilst I was there.  You can visit the brewery by appointment, unfortunately we just didn’t have time.

Mikeller and Friends

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This place is awesome.  It has 20 taps mostly of Mikeller but with the odd To Ol thrown in. They sell beer in 200ml or 400ml servings. To see what they have on tap go here http://mikkeller.dk/mikkeller-friends-reykjavik/ I had the Spontan Framboise which was mega funky and delicious. I also had To Ol’s Dangerously Close to Stupid which was smooth and quite well balanced for a Double IPA.  I also had the Berliner Weisse and To Ol’s Like Weisse on separate visits. They also play some pretty good tunes in here.

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Also in Reykjavik you’ll find that even the sports bars and English style pubs have the craft beers on draft and in bottles.  Brio, Borg’s lager is often on draft under a happy hour offer.

Outside of Reykjavik I was amazed to find most of the restaurants and guesthouses along the ring road have beers from the breweries.  They do like to show off their local produce in Iceland.  At Jokulsarlon I had a Vatnajokull beer by Olvisholt who are based in Selfoss in the south.  It’s made using the glacier water and artic thyme. I also managed to have their farmhouse ale Skadi in a cafe in Skogar and I drank their Saison Sif in a hot tub in Akureyri.  I highly recommend beer accompanied hot tub adventures.

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We travelled north for part of our trip.  Kaldi and Einstok are located in the northern part of the country.  You can visit Kaldi as mentioned above however Einstok are not taking visitors yet although most of Akureyri smells of hops due to them and Viking. Einstok have a White Ale, a Pale Ale, a Toasted Porter and an Arctic Berry beer which we couldn’t find anywhere.  You’ll get the full range of all of the breweries beers in Vinbudin, the government run off licenses.  Please check online for opening hours as in some places these are very limited.

My tip would be to wait until you get to the airport to buy beers.  The duty free shop has Borg’s Solveig and Ulfur, Kaldi, Olgerdin, Ovisholt and all of the Einstoks in six packs.  There is a small food shop opposite where you can buy a bigger range from all in single bottles.

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