Our guide to Beer in Iceland
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
One really surprising fact about Iceland is that drinking beer was illegal here from 1915 until 1989. This was part of a countrywide prohibition, quite at odds with a lot of people’s idea of the feasting high life of Iceland’s Viking population. This blip on the Icelandic drinking culture calendar is now long forgotten and beer drinking is now fully embraced once more. Microbreweries and craft beer bars abound in Reykjavik and beyond, and there is even an official Beer Day. With so many brilliant beers to sample, we have put together a guide to finding the best beers in Iceland. Covering the tastiest brews (in our opinion), some useful beer hacks and a little more about Beer Day.
What’s on tap?
Of course there are plenty of international beer brands available in Iceland’s bars. You’ll also see them in the official government-run shops that sell alcohol. These are known as Vínbúðin and they have the monopoly on selling alcohol and tobacco in the country. There are fewer than fifty of these shops in all of Iceland, so alcohol is far less accessible than in most other countries. To help you make the most of your beer quota we’ve put together a list of our favourite Icelandic brewed beers.
With its logo of an erupting volcano, Lava Beer certainly packs some fire. At 9.6%, this is a full strength beer to say the least. Deliciously dark with notes of chocolate and malt, Lava is a classic stout. It is brewed by the Ölvisholt Brugghús brewery in Selfoss and has won several international awards. Even if stout is not your tipple of choice it is definitely worth sampling.
This is a really popular beer in Iceland and one of the less alcoholic beers at 5%. It is a lighter brew in the pilsner tradition with a coppery colour. Kaldi Blonde is known as one of the more refreshing beers for a quick after work wind down. It might be the closest Iceland comes to a session beer.
Úlfur – The Wolf
Úlfur is a delicious India Pale Ale brewed by the famous Borg Brugghús. This craft brewery was set up in 2010 and produces some of Iceland’s best and most popular beers. This one is golden and hoppy with zesty citrus notes. It is a firm favourite with craft beer enthusiasts.
The 8.4 Surtur Beer
With notes of chocolate, liquorice and coffee this might just be the darkest imperial stout ever brewed. This is a seriously strong beer from Borg Brugghús. No, it is not 8.4%. This black Icelandic stout is a crazy 14.5% proof. One to sip, savour or quite possibly to share!
Anything by Einstök
Einstök is a great micro brewery based in Akureyri in North Iceland. The people here have a serious local beer ethic. They often use local Icelandic ingredients in their brews, such as bilberries for their Arctic Berry Ale. Also on their list is a beautiful White Ale, one of the most refreshing beers in Iceland with a hint of citrus. Then there is the delicious Artic Pale Ale and a tasty toasted Porter. The brewery also produces fantastic seasonal ales. With a passionate staff you know that you are in safe hands when you see the Einstök label. Look out for the distinctive Viking head motif and you can’t go far wrong.
More about Beer Day
Beer Day falls on March 1st and marks the day, way back in the heady days of 1989, when beer was officially legalised. We would have liked to have been at the party on that day. Right across Iceland there were enthusiastic and raucous celebrations in the bars, streets and houses. News shows across the world aired video footage of elated Icelanders packing out the pubs. Following on, perhaps March 2nd should be the official day of the sore head? Beer Day these days is not quite as lively. Most people who partake will head out for a beer or two in honour of the day, and lots of bars run promotions to mark the day.
Iceland is a notoriously expensive country and that certainly applies to beer too. If you buy beer in the official shops in Iceland, you will be paying a premium. We recommend stocking up in the duty free shop at the airport. It will mean that you’ll have quite a bit to carry from the airport. However, if you’re hiring a campervan you’ll soon be able to take the weight off.
Beware the grocery store Pilsner beers! You’ll see them on the shelves of the grocery stores and you will be tempted. However, this ultra low alcohol beer is not beer as we know it. The cans say Pilsner and they look like a classic large can of beer, but the alcohol content is less than 2.25%. This is all well and good if you’re after a refreshing summer drink, just don’t expect to get tipsy on it.
Important to note: As always folks, do drink responsibly. Drinking and driving in Iceland is an absolute no, no. The official limit is far lower than in Europe and the US. So if you are hiring a vehicle in Iceland it is safer to stay completely sober. Until you get to your campground or hotel for the night that is.