Updated: Sep 23
Beer is great, isn’t it? The amber nectar is a firm favorite in Iceland too. Beer enthusiasts will find an exciting range of Iceland-brewed real ales to tickle their taste buds. And it would be rude not to give them all a sip or two right? From light and refreshing IPAs to dark and stormy stouts, there is bound to be a brew to suit you. In this article, we will talk a little bit about the surprising history of beer in Iceland. We will also share some drinkers’ tips with you and run through some of our favorite must-try brews.
Icelandic Beer in History
That surprising fact we mentioned earlier is that drinking beer in Iceland used to be illegal. After centuries of feasting with the Vikings came a prohibition. From one extreme to another! Beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 all the way through to 1989. So it was a reasonably long period of time really. Wiping out a full lifetime of beer-swilling if you happened to be born around the turn of the 20th Century.
As you can imagine when the ban was lifted in 1989 there were mass celebrations. The day fell on March 1st and the party was indeed legendary. Icelandic people headed down the pub en masse. There were parties in the streets and television footage beamed around the world of the enthusiastic revelry.
Ever since then there has been an official Beer Day each year on this very date. It is not such a raucous event these days though. Icelandic people are now quite used to the fact of beer and it is no longer such a novelty. Even so, bars and pubs will mark the day with special promotions. And if you are a real beer enthusiast then it is your duty to go out and raise a glass.
The Very Best Brews of Beer in Iceland
Here come our favorite local beer brands for you to look out for on your travels.
This excellent microbrewery is based in the capital of North Iceland Akureyri. This is a serious Icelandic craft beer and pretty much everything they do is high quality and delicious. Einstök Brewery likes to experiment with seasonal brews and also uses hyper-local ingredients. Their Arctic Berry Ale is a beer brewed using wild Icelandic bilberries. Look out for their distinctive Viking head logo and you won’t go far wrong.
Úlfur – The Wolf
This is an all-time favorite in Iceland. A delectable India Pale Ale that is golden and hoppy and perfect for supping. It is brewed by the famous Borg Brugghús Brewery set up in 2010. It is a relative newcomer on the scene but has proved very popular.
Dark and fiery this Icelandic brewed stout is an award winner on an international level. Chocolate and malt notes make it a delicious beer to sample even if you don’t usually opt for the stouts. It comes from the Ölvisholt Brugghús brewery in Selfoss. This is one of Iceland’s many full-strength beer examples coming in at a heady 9.6%. So go easy!
Surtur Beer 8.4
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of soberness by the name. Surtur 8.4 is not a reference to the alcohol volume. This dark imperial stout with savory notes of coffee and licorice is a whopping 14.5 % proof. It really is one to sip and savor and certainly not a session beer.
The Kaldi Blonde
From one end of the beer spectrum to the other. Brewed by Bruggsmidjan Kaldi This is one of the most popular and refreshing beers in Iceland. Light and coppery it is the perfect choice for a gentle and thirst-quenching afternoon drink.
More about beer drinking in Iceland
Icelandic drinking habits have certainly changed over the years. For example, it is now perfectly acceptable to enjoy a breakfast beer. Especially whilst soaking in the Blue Lagoon or the Mývatn Nature Baths on the Diamond Circle. So there is wide acceptance of drinking beer and it is perfectly normal.
There are some remnants of the prohibition era though. The sale of alcohol is treated in a very particular way in Iceland. Aside from in bars and restaurants where it is quite expensive you can only buy alcohol in government-run shops. These shops are called Vínbúðin and there are fewer than fifty of them in the whole country.
Drinking tips for Iceland
As we mentioned it is quite expensive to buy alcohol in Iceland. So if you would like a few drinks to fuel your travels then make the most of duty-free shopping. Pick up a few bottles of wine or a favorite spirit at the airport and enjoy a campsite beer. The perfect option if you are renting a camper as you'll have a fridge to keep it all cool.
You can of course buy alcohol in Iceland if you make it to one of the few Vínbúðin. But if you’re in the local convenience store you might be tempted by the cans of beer seemingly on offer. This is extremely low alcohol beer though. It is usually less than 2% and has very little effect in terms of merrymaking.
If you are heading out for an evening of revelry in Iceland then do as the locals do. Get together for a pre-party warm-up in your rental vehicle or hotel room. Sink a few beers then hit the bars already merry. As we said the beers in Iceland are pretty strong. So you may well only need a glass or two to keep you topped up.