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In the past 6-7 years, I´ve got numerous emails from ratebeer members regarding where to go to get good beer in Iceland, what sights to see and just generally how to beer a beernerd in Iceland! I´ve nailed down a small guide for you lonely souls..
First off, let´s start with the beers and breweries we got, starting with the micro breweries.
In the last 4 years there has been a boom concerning microbeer interest in Iceland. Small breweries have been established all over the country and we have now 3 fully active microbreweries.
In the town of Stykkishólmur we got Mjöður Brugghús. Founded in 2007, and seeing first product being delivered in August month of 2008, Mjöður is the newest of the bunch.
Founded by locals, they brew 2 beers with special seasonal beers. The premium beer, Jökull, is a bavarian pilsner, brewed with imported hops from bavaria and clean water from the site. In my opinion not very good, faint yellow with a dry floral finish. Corny aftertaste with hints of chemicals. I must admit, I haven´t had this in quite some while, and they serve a draft version of this at site so I hope it´s better now. Later, they began production of Skriðjökull, a darker version of Jökull. In my opinion, that beer is everything Jökull should be, it´s got a nice bavarian character, tasty floral hops, hints of caramel malt, and is indeed not a bad session beer. I´ve found their seasonal beers to be quite bland, their last Christmas beer was the best of the bunch, a cloudy bock, dry and somewhat bread-ish.
Way out in the north of Iceland, Bruggsmiðjan started the micro revolution here in Iceland. It was established in 2005 and began production a year later. Founded by two locals after seeing a small news bulletin on TV about the micro brewery culture in Denmark. This not being done in Iceland before, it was quite a remarkable achievement. The general public in Iceland had been drinking macro swill for years, and never even heard of a micro brewery. The brewery was a big success and even manage to conquer the bottled beer market, with over 430,000 units sold of Kaldi in 2009, against about 320,000 units sold of Viking beer.
The premium beer is Kaldi, a czech pilsner brewed with imported malt and Saaz hops. The production has been very constant and gotten bigger without the beer loosing it´s character. They brew a dunkel version called Kaldi Dökkur which is also quite good. The beer is widely available in Iceland and very popular.
They brewery is in Árskógssandur, tiny village in Eyjafjörður.
The very best of the bunch and among the best in the world in my opinion. The tiny brewery is operating out of a barn on the south coast of Iceland, in the county of Flóahreppur.
The premium beer is Skjálfti, a hoppy premier lager which reminds me of Sam Adams. The flagship though is the magnificent Lava, only imperial stout available in Iceland and among the very best I´ve sampled in my lifetime. Ölvisholt have been quite active doing creative and extraordinary stuff, which is quite remarkable baring in mind the size of the brewery (only 300,000 liters brewed annually!). They have 4 products which are available all year round, the other two from the beers I´ve mentioned before are the aggressive Móri and delicate Freyja. Móri is a red ale, brewed with 4 kinds of hops and 6 kinds of malts. Huge amounts of Cascade and Goldings being quite obvious on the palate. Freyja is the opposite, a light belgian wit, dedicated to the women of Iceland.
Their seasonal beers have been amazing, and rarely fall into category. They have have had a chocolate bock, a very yeasty ale they called Mungát, a belgian double and a smoked bock.
A full review of the brewery is pending before summer gets here.
I strongly advice people to stay away from the big macro´s, both Viking and Egils, although Viking brew one specialty beer which is quite good, the Viking Stout. Seems like the brewer had some freedom making one brand of beer and the final product is incredibly tasty.
Getting beer in Iceland
One amazing fact you have to keep in mind about beer in Iceland: Beer was banned until march 1st, 1989!! It was all a strange ordeal for Icelanders and an even more amazing story behind it. Bizarrely, Icelanders voted for alcahol ban in 1908 for reasons unknown to me! A part of the prohibition was repealed in 1922 when wine was imported to Iceland for the first time since before 1908. That was not something that happened over night, it happened namely because Spain refused to import our fish unless they could trade with wine! In 1934 all alcaholic beverages were legalized except for beer! Icelanders went on booze cruises overseas, and beer was some kind of luxury rarely smuggled through customs. I remember my grandfather being a taxi driver in the north of Iceland, getting paid with smuggled beer when ships docked at the harbor. Strangely, airline crews were allowed by law to bring duty-free beer into the country. In 1980 an icelandic business man demanded the same rights as airline crews and went to court. That year, the first cracks of the beer ban became quite obvious. He lost the court case but in the aftermath of extensive media coverage, it was legalized for citizens to bring 12 pints of beer into the country from the Duty-Free store. On may 11th 1988 the Icelandic Parliament passed a bill allowing beer to be sold again in Iceland, for the first time in 73 years. Finally, on march 1st, 1989, the first pints were poured in Icelandic bars, and the public was drunk for a whole weekend.
Although beer is legal, you cant walk to the supermarket and buy beer. Sure, you can get watered down 2.25% abv version of the macro swill but you have to go to Vínbúðin to get beer. Vínbúðin or ÁTVR (The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland) is a monopoly in sales of alcahol in Iceland. A bit like Sweden and other want-to-be-communist countries, this is something we have to accept as a fact. No beer on sundays, nothing after 1800 on saturdays and 2000 on normal weekdays! (Bars are open though!)
This was just a small introduction to what to expect regarding beer when visiting Iceland. I´m always opened for questions both on ratebeer and through email, (firstname.lastname@example.org)