Skál! Sampling Iceland’s Craft Beer: In Love with Iceland, Part 4

Though beer (sadly) wasn’t the main point of my October Iceland trip, I did make it a point to try lots of Iceland’s craft beer. Over ten days, I easily sampled my way to Untappd’s Brew Lagoon badge, level 5.

Recap: In October 2016, I organized a 10-day trip to Iceland with my women’s hockey team. The first half was a road trip around southern Iceland, and we spent the remainder exploring Reykjavik and playing in a tournament. As I’m a huge beer fan, this post focuses specifically on Iceland’s craft beer. Be sure to check out Part 1: In Love with Iceland, Part 2: Iceland Favorites: Þórsmörk and JökulsárlónPart 3: Iceland Travel Tips, and Part 5: Wandering Reykjavikof the series as well!

Pairing Beer with Hockey

From Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón and back, I managed to coerce my teammates into making 5 dedicated brew stops: 1 brewery tour, 1 beer store, 1 brew pub, and 2 craft beer bars. For the record, no one complained. Beer does pair well with hockey, after all.  

Iceland beer
A drinking team with a hockey problem; Mikkeller & Friends, Reykjavik

Essential Vocabulary

beer → bjór

cheers → skál

thanks → takk

one beer, thanks → Einn bjór, takk

Ölvisholt Brugghús

My favorite beer stop was our tour of Ölvisholt Brugghús, a tiny brewery (some might call it a “microbrewery” :-P) on a farmstead near Selfoss, about an hour from Reykjavik. They were kind enough to conduct a tour just for our group since there were so many of us.

Note: Tours must be booked in advance, no walk-ins; info here.

Just getting to the brewery turned out to be a bit of an adventure. The weather became steadily darker, rainier, and windier as we drove from Svartifoss back toward Reykjavik. We were driving into the remnants of Hurricane Matthew (so that’s where hurricanes end up when they’re done with the US…). When we arrived, I opened my car door, and it almost blew off.

Iceland beer
Head brewer Elvar pours samples straight from the fermenting tanks

After we made it safely into the brewery, Elvar, the head brewer himself, greeted us with freshly poured beers and gave us a 90-minute tour. We got the run down on the brewery’s history and the brewing process, and Elvar was quite generous with the samples. He poured some straight from the fermenting tank. He also opened up some bottled seasonal varieties for us to try. My favorite was the Mori red ale, though the Lava imperial stout came in a close second. 

Iceland beer
Sampling Ölvisholt beer. Skál!

Note: Getting to the brewery requires driving on some rough but navigable gravel roads, so make sure your car and insurance are up to the task. A 4×4 isn’t necessary if the weather is good, but just be prepared for some bumps and pothole dodging.

Beer tourism in Reykjavik

After we left Ölvisholt, we headed back to Reykjavik, where we’d stay for the rest of the trip.

As I usually do, I cobbled together my own beer tour with ten of my travel companions. While we waited for the beer bars to open, we started with cocktails and snacks at Apotek (yes, I know, cocktails are not beer), which I’d “discovered” thanks to the Reykjavik Food Walk.

I was both excited and disappointed to learn that Wake Up Reykjavik started their beer tour only a few days after we returned home. However, the food walk was awesome (Bára is a great guide), so I’m sure the beer tour is going to be fantastic, too. Put that on the list for next visit!

We hit two out of three parts of Iceland’s “craft beer trifecta”: first Microbar and then Mikkeller & Friends. Both bars have a great selection on tap.

Microbar

Microbar’s taps are primarily Gæðingur beers since the bar and brewery belong to the same owner. They also had some Ölvisholt and a large selection of Icelandic and imported bottles. I really enjoyed the sour Gæðingur Skyrgosi; it was a refreshing change from the stouts, pale ales, light lagers, and witbiers we’d been drinking bottled.  

True story: When ten of us trooped into Microbar together, the manager asked, “What are you, a hockey team?”

Shocked that he’d guessed correctly, we said “Yes, we are! Did you hear about the tournament?”

“What? Bullshit.”

So we all pulled out our phones showing pictures of us in our gear, and he shook his head in disbelief. “I was just trying to be funny!”

Note: many articles about Reykjavik’s bars say that Microbar is in the Centerhotel Plaza, but it has moved nearby to Vesturgata 2.

Mikkeller & Friends

After leaving Microbar, a few more friends joined our group, and we headed to Mikkeller & Friends (conveinently located over a restaurant that serves tasty pizza). Their 20 taps had a large collection of Scandinavian and collaboration brews the day we visited. Midwestern beers also made a strong showing with several Founders’ offerings, a Mikkeller / 3 Floyds’ collaboration, and a Brewski / Pipeworks collaboration (Chitown represent!).

mikkeller-and-friends
Drinking beer at Mikkeller & Friends, Reykjavik

Bryggjan Brugghús

The day before the impromptu bar crawl, I talked one friend into going to the microbrewery Bryggjan Brugghús for a late lunch, pre-game beer, and a bit of harborside exploration. We tried all four of their house beers: pilsner, hefe, pale ale, and IPA. The (decent-sized) sampler of 3 cost about $16 or 1.800 ISK. My favorite was the pale ale, though admittedly, I tend toward that style in general. The club sandwich, with smoked salmon, shrimp, and avocado was excellent, and as hungry as we were, it almost eclipsed the beers. I still think about that sandwich. But I promise, the beers really are good, too!

And now a few practical matters…

Beer Trivia Snippets

Until 1989, all but low-alcohol beer was outlawed in Iceland. Now, like everywhere else, the beer scene in Iceland is growing rapidly, and most of the beer consumed in Iceland is made there.

Breweries and Brands

While there are only about 14 breweries (correct me if I counted wrong), they offer a relatively large variety of styles. Seasonals are also quite popular. Gull and Viking are the standard-issue commercial beers. The craft brands I encountered most on the road were Borg (Reykjavik) and Einstök (Akureyri). Some of the beers offer a “Nordic” take on the ingredients; I’d even heard about one brewed with whale fat, but didn’t encounter it myself.

Budgeting for your bender

As I mentioned in my earlier post, drinking in Iceland is expensive. It’s recommended that you stock up at duty free at the airport, have a few drinks before going out, etc. etc. This is definitely solid advice as even a basic beer in a bar will set you back $7-9 (8.000 -1.000 kr) and a good craft beer could cost upward of $10 (1.200 kr).

I suppose it depends on your priorities. If you want to save a few króna on your way to getting drunk, pregaming can help alleviate costs. If you want to be out and about, try the latest beers on tap, and enjoy some good company, I’d say budget for it and sip slowly.

Vínbúðin

If you run out of your duty free stock, note that you can’t get beer in grocery or convenience stores. You need to find a Vínbúðin, which is a state-run liquor, wine, and beer store. It’s still somewhat pricey (about $3.50 or 400 ISK per beer), but that’s much cheaper than bars. You can build your own six packs, too, which is great for sampling. Most stores are open only until 6 pm (18:00) so check the website for locations that stay open later.

Skál!

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If you liked this post and want to learn more about Iceland, be sure to check out Part 1: In Love with Iceland, Part 2: Iceland Favorites: Þórsmörk and JökulsárlónPart 3: Iceland Travel Tips, and Part 5: Wandering Reykjavik of my In Love with Iceland series as well!

If you want to learn more about Iceland’s craft beer scene, check out these GBH and Wake Up Reykjavik posts.

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