Okay, I’ll come clean! I’m a craft beer snob. This confession is precisely why I needed to share a guide to Iceland craft beer with you. Ahh, that feels good to say out loud!
How crazy does this sound? Beer containing more than 2.25% alcohol by volume (ABV) has only been legal in Iceland for 30 years. 30 years. We’re talking 1989, people!
A ban on all alcohol was instituted in 1915 and over the years was lifted for spirits. But it wasn’t until March 1, 1989 that beer could be brewed and sold in Iceland (if it was higher than 2.25% ABV).
In recent years the Iceland craft beer scene has exploded. Though not a complete guide with every beer or brewery in the country (yet), it is sure to make you very, very hoppy.
Full disclosure: I needed help to write this post. Fortunately my husband is crazy about beer, so he proof-read this post to ensure I didn’t incorrectly describe styles. Oh, and he took notes like a champ on Untappd during our travels, because #priorities.
Borg Brugghús, established in 2010, styles itself as a “progressive craft brewery.” Borg is one of the most widely available craft beer and a variety can be found in cans and bottles at duty-free. On our first trip to Iceland we were introduced to their beers when we took in a few hours at Skúli Craft Bar in Reykjavik. Many of their beers incorporate traditional Icelandic cultural traits (such as being smoked over sheep’s’ dung).
- NR. 3 Úlfur – A standard west coast style IPA, bursting with pine and citrus notes. It’s bit more on the malty side and does not have the typical straw yellow (it’s more golden). Úlfur was one of our favorites on our second trip to Iceland and the only downfall was being unable to locate it in cans.
- NR. 17 Úlfur Úlfur – An imperial double IPA that my husband drank at Einstock Brewer’s Lounge. In a word, “killer.” Úlfur Úlfur is super citrusy in both taste and smell, and is almost juicy. There is a decent malty body as well.
- NR. 25 Sólveig – A hoppy hefevizen that has a strong mix of German and American hops. Just a fantastic beer; very light and drinkable.
- NR. 34 Úlfrún – We brought this home from our first trip in Iceland in cans. You can taste the Cirta, Mosaic, and Centennial hops but is not overly hoppy. It’s lighter and more yellow in color than the others in the “Úlf-” family of Borg beers. No heavy malt flavor; instead the oats and wheat come through clear in the taste and mouth feel. Although made with oats, there is no haze like most of the New England IPAs that are currently being brewed with oats.
- NR. 49 Sæmundur – We enjoyed this mango pale ale while taking a dip in the hot springs in the West Fjords and was perfect for outdoor summer time activities. At 4.7% it was kind of sweet and fruity, but with a hoppy bitterness on the back-end. The mouth feel is heavier than what you would expect from a pale ale, almost the consistency of a juice. From our experience it was only lightly carbonated, but perhaps that were just our cans.
- NR. 51 Ástríkur – A Belgian Pale Ale, which my friend Matt thought was the best beer he enjoyed on the trip. The artwork is fantastic and the upside label adds a layer of whimsy. The yeast strand produces strong banana esters. Very light in color, like straw.
- NR. C4 Aycayia A collaboration with Cigar City (Florida, USA) produced a 6.4% and 60 IBUs beer. This IPA captivates the drinker with its incredible artwork and dynamic citrus flavor. We drank this on a rainy night at our campsite in Hvammstangi right from the can, so I’m unsure of the color.
The signature micro-brew of Lady Brewery, First Lady is a light-colored IPA. It’s easy to drink, light, and holds a citrusy, floral aroma. This brew will not disappoint.
Also, I dare you read this story about the brewery in the Reykjavik Grapevine and not fall in love with these beer witches. I felt empowered from simply reading about the brewery’s start by a pair of intrepid women. First Lady is an IPA you want to seek out in Iceland and it’s certainly a game of hide and seek. We found First Lady in Egilsstaðir at the Askur Taproom.
If you are a lover of New England style pale ales, you should wet your lips with Kisi from Malbygg. Juicy hop flavors intoxicate your palette. You’ll be so enamored with its smooth mouth feel and no bitter aftertaste, that before you know it you’ll reach the bottom of the glass and want more.
DOKKAN BRUGGHÚS – ÍSAFJÖRÐUR
One of the newest breweries in Iceland is located in the de-facto capital of the West Fjords, Ísafjörður. We were so excited to try the Dokkan Pale Ale at the cozy cafe, Húsið. At 5.1%, the beer was a fantastic and easy drinker. Its golden-yellow color paired excellent with their pizza and fish soup. The pale ale was not overly citrusy and maintained a slight bitterness. We were disappointed that we didn’t have as more time in Ísafjörður and were unable to visit the newly open brew house. Hope you are able to check it out and try their new brews!
AUSTRI BRUGGHÚS – EGILSSTAÐIR
Austri is a brewery that you need to visit when you travel to Iceland. This Egilsstaðir brewery prides itself on the ways in which it focuses on “local.” Many of the additional flavoring ingredients are local (such as the wasabi and pine needles). Also, the beers are named for mountains in the eastern region. So cool!
Inside the brewery is the Askur Taproom. Completely unassuming, the taproom is situated in a small “strip mall” with an auto part store next door. It’s around the corner from the road that you would take if you are hopping off Ring Road to visit the quaint town of Seyðisfjörður and its iconic light blue church. The small, but lively space is not only occupied by taps of Austri and other Icelandic brews, but its brewmaster, Friðrik.
- Skessa – This wasabi-infused double IPA is very tasty! Who knew wasabi would taste so good in beer?! It has a beautiful golden-yellow color with a nice hop presence with heat on the end from the locally grown wasabi that was added to the end of the boil.
- Hvítserkur – Named after a peculiar mountain in the east, whose color and shape allows it to stand out from the landscape, this 5% American pale ale with only 33 IBUs is a good beer. Not very fruity with a slight bitterness, this golden beauty holds stripes of red, just like its namesake.
- Brúnkolla – Chewy like a piece of rye bread (in a good way)! The rye taste shines and although it is an IPA, it is not super bitter. You need to try this!
- Bjólfur – Christmas in July? No, my husband is just really great at making friends with brewers in any town we visit! If you look at the ratings on Untappd for this spiced/herbed beer, the reviews will be deceiving. This is a great beer! The flavor is unique – the taste of the hand-cut spruce and pine needles from the secondary fermentation shines through. The color is a beautifully rich red-brown. The coolest part? The spruce and pine needles were cut by the brewer himself in the forests of East Iceland. Talk about a local brew! Bjólfur is more of a Christmas ale, rather than cream ale (it doesn’t have corn in it, like traditional American cream ales). An under-appreciated beer that tastes like the Christmas season in liquid form.
BELJANDI BRUGGHÚS – BREIÐDALSVÍK
Looking for another brewery in East Iceland? Follow the road to fishing village of Breiðdalsvík, where you can enjoy four on tap in the old slaughterhouse. Spadi, an American IPA comes in at 6% alcohol. This strong citrus and hoppy brew boasts a straw yellow color, and flows down smooth. If you are looking for a damn good beer, look no further. We think it’s best enjoyed on the brugghús patio, overlooking the water while you are engaged in conversation with locals. And if you get hungry, pop over to the hotel across the street and get some traditional lamb strew to go. You don’t want to miss the experience of listening to a range of eclectic folk music, while you savor these beers alongside savory Icelandic dishes, and laugh at your friends playing pool.
ÖLVISHOLT BRUGGHÚS – SELFOSS
This microbrewery, located near Selfoss on an old dairy farm, has been crafting beer recipes since 2007. Lava Smoked Imperial Stout stands out amongst the brewery’s offerings, gaining inspiration from Hekla, a fiery volcano that can be seen from the brew house. This full-bodied, pitch black beer conjures up images of cooled lava rocks that populate the island. With a roasted malt, the aroma of smoke and chocolate is strong with a slight sweetness. Unlike many smoked stouts, Lava will not leave you wishing your head was catching water from Seljalandsfoss.
BREWERIES WE MISSED (BUT YOU SHOULDN’T)
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT BEER IN ICELAND
- It’s pricy ($10-$15USD for a single beer at the bar; 6-packs for $18USD at the duty-free; $5USD for single can of beer at the state-run liquor store, Vínbúðin);
- The only places you can buy beer are at Vínbúðin, duty-free, restaurants/cafes, and breweries;
- Beer sold in grocery stores and corner markets contain less than 2.5% alcohol
- Grab some brews at duty-free in the airport. Do this. Do not pass go. Do not collect $100. Instead, collect beer from the airport’s duty-free when you enter the country. It’s right beside the baggage claim so you cannot miss it.
Have a beer lover in your life? Maybe it’s even you! Pin this post so you can plan accordingly on your way to taste your way through Iceland craft beer.