Everything about Icelandic Beer | Best Icelandic Beers
Many visitors to Iceland are surprised to discover a plethora of Icelandic breweries and artisan micro-breweries, seemingly, an impossible number for such a small population. There is even an Annual Icelandic Beer Festival.
My personal favorite? Einstök Hvítt, an award-winning craft white ale, brewed in Akureyri by Ölgerðin Egils Skallagrímsson. I no longer have to miss out when I travel overseas, some discerning bars in the UK and other countries are selling this refreshing beer with a subtle orange tang. I even found it in Sennan, one of the remotest villages in South West England!
Icelandic Prize-Winning Beers
Icelandic beers have won some impressive prizes at the prestigious World Beer Awards:
- Boli by Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson won 1st prize in the lager category (2017)
- Bríó by Borg Brugghús won 1st prize in the German-Style Pilsner category (2012)
- Sólveig by Borg Brugghús won a prize in the wheat beer category (2013)
- Gull by Ölgerðin won 1st prize in the standard lager category (2011 and 2015)
10 Popular Icelandic beers
1. Kaldi 5% alc./vol. Pilsner
The first blonde beer Kaldi brewery made. Sold mainly in bottles or on tab (very hard to find), the original Kaldi is a blonde lager beer but brewed in the famous Pilsner tradition, so it is classified as such. The beer is a blonde copper golden color with a soft filling of roasted malt, slightly bitter but very gentle.
2. Úlfrún 4.5% alc./vol. SESSION IPA
Photo from Menn.is
Pure Icelandic water, malted barley, malted rye, malted wheat, hops, oats and yeast.
This beer has a very distinct fruitiness to it, infused with Sorachi Ace, Centennial and Simcoe hops, the result is a tropical delight of mango with a hint of pineapple.
3. Einstök White Ale 5.2% alc./vol. White Ale
Wheat malt, pilsner malt, oats and Bavarian noble hops spiced with coriander and orange peel. Best served with a slice of orange, it really brings out the orange flavor of the drink. The perfect summer drink!
4. Einstök Pale Ale 5.6% Pale Ale
Pale ale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, American and Bavarian hops.
Brewed with a combination of Cascade, perhaps the most quintessentially American hop, and Northern Brewer and Hallertau, which add a more English and Central European vibe. Kind of a mix of an American-style pale ale, English-style pale ale and a European-style pale ale or lager. In the flavor department, pale and light caramel malts form the essence, while hops contribute to a profile which is well-balanced among those floral & citrus Cascade notes and earthy, woody, and herbal tones.
5. Bríó 4.7% alc./vol. Pilsner
Has a light malty flavor but the main feature of this beer is a crisp, bitter hop flavor with a little citrus fruit, like an orange peel. It has won numerous awards and it was the very first beer Borg Brewery made!
6. Garún 11.5% alc./vol. Icelandic Stout
Chocolate, licorice and coffee taste, a rich dark beer with an aroma to match. The fresh Icelandic water plays an important role in giving this damsel its smoothness, and the double fermentation infuses it with a taste that is at once pungent and mild. An unusually light dark beer!
7. Víking Gylltur 5,6% alc./vol. Classic Premium Lager
A classic lager beer, brewed in the Old-school tradition of craftsmanship. Proven brewing methods make it a refreshing premium beer with a refined finish
8. Pils Organic 5,0% alc./vol.
A super-light delicious beer recommended in the summer. Made from 2-row organic spring barley. The Pilsners flavor is usually described as slightly nutty and biscuity.
9. Úlfur 5.9% alc./vol. India Pale Ale
Photo from Menn.is
Úlfur meaning Wolf, is dry hopped with American hops that give a bitter yet fruity aroma. The beer has a citrus fruit (particularly grapefruit) kind of taste and a delightful crispness. This is the winner for many Icelanders!
Every year Borg Brewery makes a new queer beer for the Reykjavík Pride Festival so we can’t put out any alcohol level or even define it by type! Every year it’s new and every year we try to love! We recommend you do the same!
Beer Culture in Iceland
An annual Icelandic Beer Festival features the best local brews, although, nowadays, overseas breweries participate as well. The 2018 Annual Icelandic Beer Festival is to take place from 22nd to 24th February and tickets are in very hot demand! The celebration relates to the greatest date in the Icelandic beer calendar, 1st March 1989, when full strength beer could, once again, be legally brewed and sold in Iceland. Read below for more info!
I can almost hear you asking: “Do modern-day Icelanders drink like their Viking ancestors?” Of course, a few do, and a great many enjoy a few bevies at the weekend, but by no means all!
So, the next question I can feel radiating across the airwaves is “who drinks all that beer?” It has to be said, Iceland is a small nation which places a very high value anything innovative – tiny artisan breweries just keep springing up. There are just so many beers to choose from! Quite a few of them enjoy well-established markets overseas too!
Maybe, some historical facts go a long way when it comes to explaining the Icelandic fascination with brewing beer and their amazing creativity when it comes to brewing beer.
9 Beer in Iceland Facts:
- The Vikings who came to Iceland were always in search of new lands so a quest for innovation, as well as drinking ale, could be said to be in their blood.
- That the Vikings who settled Iceland had a strong ale and mead drinking tradition is well known, the drinking of ale is recorded in the very beautiful Saga Age poem, Hávamál.
- When the settlers came Iceland was warmer than it is now, so growing barley to produce ale was easy. The so-called ‘Little Ice Age´ from 1300 made it impossible to grow barley in Iceland, the island was very isolated so importing barley was scarcely possible. No barley meant no beer – there is nothing like absence for making the heart grow fonder!
- Ölgerðin Egils Skallagrímsson is the oldest brewery in Iceland, established in 1913.
- The sale of beer was prohibited on 01 January 1915, although Icelanders could still buy hard liquor! Of course, some Icelanders brewed illegal beer at home!
- The prohibition was amended in 1933 when low alcohol beer was permitted (2.25%).
- From 1979 Icelanders could bring a limited quantity of beer into Iceland when they returned from trips overseas. Previously, this right had only been available to airline staff.
- The prohibition was fully lifted on 01 March 1989, at last, the Icelanders could raise a glass in celebration on “Beer Day”.
- 2014 The World Health Organisation said beer comprised 62% of the alcohol drunk by Icelanders.
Icelandic Brewery Ratings
Untappd creates a ranking for the Icelandic breweries who produce more than 5 beers, in international terms these breweries are tiny, yet, when it comes to variety many are surprisingly prolific. In the order of their current ranking the top few contenders are:
- The Brothers Brewery, their brew, Togarinn won Beer of the Year in 2016. This Westman Islands brewery loves to add local flavor, particularly thyme and dulse, a seaweed. A total of 23 different beers are produced by this remote operation.
- Einstök Ölgerð Iceland in Akureyri brews Iceland’s number 1 craft beer and my absolute favorite, Einstök Hvítt! This operation brews 7 craft beers, ingredients used by the Vikings in ancient times often feature in their beers.
- Borg Brugghús in Reykjavík, established in 2010, produces a grand selection of 52 beers. Known for being highly innovative with their brewing processes and use of unusual local ingredients, this operation has won many international beer awards.
- Bryggjan Brugghús is a Reykjavík now produces 36 beers and operates a lively bistro and music venue.
- Ölvisholt Brugghús in Selfoss was started by two farmers in 2007, 38 beers are brewed.
- Gæðingur Öl Brugghús is a farm microbrewery at Skagafjörður. An amazing 125 beers are brewed.
- Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi in the tiny fishing hamlet of Árskógssandur. They specialize in Pilsner style beer, using brewing techniques from the Czech Republic and ingredients in their raw form with no added sugar.
With so much choice, beer tasting is a very popular addition to some activity tours, for example, Beer Tasting and River Rafting, taste 4 of the best craft beers from Borg Brugghús after your rafting trip. Happy rafting and Skál (cheers)!
Beer brewing culture is certainly on the rise in Iceland, since the day the Icelandic beer prohibition was lifted the trade has really prospered. Today, a fine selection of quality local craft beers are taking on the bigger beer brands, in Reykjavik beer culture is thriving like never before. Picking the best is an ongoing competition and a really tough one, but we’ve decided to try to show you the best!