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An Enthusiast’s Guide to Beer in Iceland

Updated: Feb 15

In the mood for a cold one? Well, never fear ‘coz Iceland beer is near (or at least will be if you’re planning a trip to the island). Iceland might’ve strict regulations when it comes to the sale of alcohol, but it certainly hasn’t curbed the creativity of the local brewers.


In this article, we give you the lowdown on all the local beer favorites and where you can go to enjoy them.


Iceland beer

The Best Icelandic Beer Brands


We have a few delicious Icelandic beer brands for you to try on your next trip to the island:


Viking Beer


Viking Beer in Iceland is brewed at the Viking Brewery in Akureyri. This is one of the most legendary brands of beer on the island, as its history goes all the way back to 1939. Viking Beer dominates the Icelandic market, taking up a quarter of the market share and half of the non-imported market share. Viking Gyltur was the beer most sold in Iceland in 2017. Viking Beer includes lagers as well as craft beers such as:

  • Viking Classic (Lager)

  • Viking Stout

  • Thule (Pilsner)

  • Viking Rökkr

  • Viking Lite (Gluten-free)




Gull Beer


Gull Beer is an Icelandic beer brand that uses locally grown barley, pilsner malt, and Icelandic water to brew pale Munich Lagers. Gull Beer has been available since 1989 when the prohibition ended after 70 years and is very popular on the island.


In fact, of the top 5 list of all-time favorite beers, Gull Beers has claimed two of the spots. The Lager has also won the title of “World’s Best Standard Lager” at the World Beer Awards 2011.





Einstök Olgerd


This is yet another one of the delectable Icelandic beer brands that has its origins in Akureyri. What makes this craft beer so special is the fact that it’s made from Icelandic glacier water coming down the Hlijarfjall Mountain. It takes the brewery 9–12 months before a new brew is released, since they strive for perfection. And it shows with all the awards these brews are raking in. Some of the Icelandic brews Einstok stocks are:

  • Icelandic White Ale

  • Arctic Lager

  • Toasted Porter

  • Wee Heavy (Scotch Ale)

  • Lime & Juniper Pils




Ulfur


The Ulfur brews come from the infamous Borg Brugghus Brewery in the capital of Reykjavík. Ulfur means “wolf” in Icelandic, as is an American-style IPA. The popular Ulfur brews consist of Nr. 3 Ulfur and Nr. 17 Ulfur. Nr. 3 is hopped with American hops, giving it a signature bitter and fruity aroma, and is described as delightfully crisp. Nr. 17 is a double IPA with a wonderfully bitter, yet fruity taste.




Lava


Lava comes from another famous microbrewery in Iceland called Olvisholt Brugghus. This interesting brewery is located in an old, repurposed dairy farm in Selfoss, and its location is what gives this brew’s name meaning. From the brewery, one has a view of the legendary Hekla volcano. Lava is a smoky, black beer with a thick brown head. Definitely one of the best Icelandic beers.





Kaldi Beer


Kaldi Beer is made at Bruggsmidjan Kaldi Brewery (a family-owned small business) in the northern part of Iceland. Even though this brewery has only been making brews since 2006, their Kaldi Blond is the most-sold bottled beer in Iceland. All Kaldi’s beers are unpasteurized and contain no added sugar or preservatives.


The barley used for the Kaldi beer is imported from the US, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, and Australia. Per German quality law, the brewing process is only done with basic raw beer materials: malted barley, water, hops, and yeast. What makes Kaldi brews even more interesting and one of the best Icelandic beers is that they offer seasonal, themed beers. Some of the Kaldi Beers you can enjoy on your next visit include:

  • Kaldi Blond (the legendary bottled brew we mentioned before)

  • Kaldi Dark (Pilsner)

  • Nordan Kaldi (an English-style Ale)

  • Porra Kaldi (easily mistaken for an Icelandic Pale Ale, but is, in fact, a Pilsner)

  • Christmas Kaldi (Medium Beer with a caramel sweetness)




First Lady


This is an exceptional brew by the Lady Brewery in Reykjavík city. The name is very telling, since the Lady Brewery is the first all-female-run microbrewery. If you are someone who puts a high value on sustainable products, then the Lady Brewery beers are definitely for you.


They are very aware of the environmental impact they have. Therefore, all ingredients are sourced from local farmers and other small businesses. This was their first release and quickly became a popular Iceland IPA, kicking off the brewery's success.




Kisi


Kisi is a brew made by the popular Malbygg Brewery in Reykjavík. Although Malbygg has quite a few popular brews under their belt, Kisi is definitely a forerunner when it comes to favorites. Kisi is an interesting taste sensation. It’s hoppy and citrusy with a hint of pineapple. This Icelandic Pale Ale not only tastes great, but it’s also known for its beautiful label art.




Tómatbjór


Tómatbjór is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime type of Iceland beer. Fridheimar is known for two things: its horses and tomato-themed dishes. That’s why it was not surprising when Aegisgardur was commissioned to create a tomato-based brew.


Those visiting Reykjavík or doing a road trip of the Golden Circle are recommended to make a stop and try this beer out. If you’re feeling adventurous for more of this freshness, you can also try out their cucumber beer afterward.




Surtur


From the creators that brought you Ulfur (Borg Brugghus Brewery) comes stouts straight from heaven. Surtur has two variations to choose from: Nr. 8.2 and Nr. 8.4. While both are very dark, Nr. 8.4 is more bitter with traces of dark chocolate, licorice, burnt sugar, and coffee.


Nr. 8.2 has a heady, oaky aroma with a touch of vanilla. But it’s not just the aroma and taste that makes Surtur stand out from the beer crowd – it’s their alcohol percentages. Clocking in at a staggering 14.5%, these stouts are not for the lightweights or irresponsible among us.




Gædingur


This is probably one of the most flavor-filled stouts on the island. As one can gather from the name, this beer is brewed by the Gædingur Brewery situated in Kópavogur. This Iceland beer offers a fusion of chocolate, caramel, coffee, and other earthy tones.


Although this beer is a little pricier than some of the others on our list, it’s well worth the indulgence whenever the budget allows. As with most, a Gædingur brew can be purchased at government-run liquor stores. Still, there are also a few places that stock the brand on-tap, so keep your eyes peeled.



Where to Purchase Iceland Beer


Iceland is not a place where you can just quickly pop around to the corner shop to grab a six-pack. The sale of alcohol is strictly regulated on the island. You can only purchase alcohol from government-owned stores called Vinbudin. These shops are open every day from 11 am to 6 pm except for Sundays.


You can also enjoy Icelandic beer at local hangouts and at some of the best restaurants in Iceland. Also at some breweries, or tasting rooms like Microbar in Reykjavík. Note that unlike breweries in some countries, Icelandic breweries are not allowed to sell their brews for take-out. Therefore, you can only taste them on their premises.


You can either opt to do a little brewery or pub crawling by yourself, or book your spot on one of the myriads of group tours offered on the island. A few you can consider are:


best Icelandic beer

National Beer Day in Iceland


Even though the sale of alcohol is still strictly regulated in Iceland, there was a time that the country was in full-blown prohibition mode. That meant that any alcohol was completely illegal. This prohibition era lasted for 74 years ‘till it was finally lifted on 1 March 1989 (yes, quite recently).


Icelanders don’t need much motivation when it comes to festivities, and if the end of prohibition doesn’t merit celebration, we don’t know what does. So, to this day, 1 March is celebrated as National Beer Day and is accompanied by all the festivities you suspect there might be.


How Much is an Iceland Beer?


Iceland beer prices vary just like anywhere else in the world. In general, a 500 ml beer will set you back about 800 – 1500 ISK (roughly $6 - $11). Ironically, the price of 1l beer doesn’t differ too much from the 500ml prices. If you want to make the most out of your budget, keep an eye out for Happy Hours at your local venue.


Enjoy an Iceland Beer in Any Setting


Having an Iceland beer can be quite the experience. And everyone knows how good that first cold gulp is after a long journey. So, if you’re planning on renting a campervan in Reykjavík and going on a road trip, we highly recommend that you add some thirst-quenching stops to your itinerary.


It's important to remember not to drink and drive, even when you're on a road trip in the best campervan in Iceland. Not only is it illegal, but it's also extremely dangerous. Plan ahead and make sure you have a designated driver or stay put for the night.


But whether you opt for the creator experience at a local brewery, enjoy it alongside some Icelandic cuisine with friends at a restaurant, or whilst sharing stories with the locals at the bar – an Iceland beer will inevitably come with lifelong memories.

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