In Iceland beer has never been as popular as it is right now. With so many new micro- or craftbreweries producing different styles of beers to choose from and new bars specializing in beer there seems to be no end to the variety of choices. Specialist thinks it safe to say that microbreweries are leading the charge in the Icelandic beer market.

“Yes, I have the feeling that they’ve made their mark on the beer market,” says Höskuldur Sæmundsson, beer enthusiast and teacher at The Beer School in Reykjavik. “Only five years ago it was almost impossible to drink anything but lager at a bar, but nowadays with all the nice bars and pubs that have recently opened you can choose from a variety of interesting microbeer both in bottles and on tap.

Teacher at the Beer School in Reykjavík, Höskuldur Sæmundsson, enjoying some beer.
Teacher at the Beer School in Reykjavík, Höskuldur Sæmundsson, enjoying some beer.

Icelanders have suddenly started to appreciate not only lager but also varieties of beer styles, such as stouts and IPA’s, even the German Wheat beer, or Weissbier, is being brewed. Especially around Christmas do Icelanders go crazy, as no matter how much there is on offer, christmas beers are sold out in just a few seconds.”

On that note Höskuldur says that the amount of beer being produced and sold in Iceland has increased from year to year, with new styles making land in Iceland almost every month.

“It‘s really been a boom since 2009.”

Why 2009?

Höskuldur explains that in part it has to do with to the economic crash in 2008. “You see during its aftermath Icelanders wanted to do something nice for themselves. They didn‘t only buy expensive trips abroad but also started eating fancy food and drinking top quality beer. At that point beer had been legal in Iceland for 20 years same as the legal drinking age in Iceland, so maybe the market simply was ready for the next step.

That’s why microbreweries started brewing all kinds of beer, not only lager which was up until recently the norm,” Höskuldur goes on. “That‘s how microbreweries gained so much success. Because the market was there, and “legally” ready,” he jokes.

Höskuldur says that this change, as dramatic as it is, is however nothing when compared to how the beer culture was back in 1989, the year when beer was legalized in Iceland and became available in liquor stores and bars.

“Icelanders wanted to do something nice for themselves. They didn‘t only buy expensive trips abroad but also started eating fancy food and drinking top quality beer.”

“Drinking habits have changed so much since then. It‘s not about binge drinking as it was before. Now we’ve seen a culture starting to emerge, where it is OK to open a bottle here with dinner and a can there with the TV, of nice rarities, without having to down the entire case. It‘s not the same heavy drinking as before.”

Going back to flourishing beer culture, we finally ask Höskuldur which bars he likes:

Micro Bar, Austurstræti 6, Reykjavik.
Pioneer pub with great variety of bottled beer plus different kinds of Icelandic microbeer served by taps. Micro bar was the first pub to offer microbeer.

Micro Bar.
Micro Bar.

Skúli Craft Bar, Aðalstræti 9, Reykjavik.
My favourite bar, fantastic place. Has a great beer range by the tap.

Skúli Craft Bar.
Skúli Craft Bar. Photo/Freyr Rúnarsson

Mikkeller & Friends, Hverfisgata 12, Reykjavik.
Interesting variety of Danish microbeers, among the best known Danish microbeers.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavík.
Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavík. Photo/Mikael Axelsson.

Other interesting bars according to Höskuldur:
Hlemmur Square, the new beer bar Beer Garden in Fosshotel Reykjavik in Borgartún plus Kex Hostel.

Top left: Kex Hostel, Hlemmur Square and Beer Garden (on the right).
Top left: Kex Hostel, Hlemmur Square and the Beer Garden (on the right).
  • A klipping from adsf
    Beer no longer illegal. A newspaper clipping from Morgunblaðið in 1989 showing Icelanders cheering when beer was finally legalized and became available in liquor stores and bars.

    In Iceland, Beer Day (is. Bjórdagur) is celebrated every year on March 1, honoring the elimination of the prohibition of beer, which lasted from 1915 to March 1, 1989.

  • When prohibition became law in 1915, alcohol in general was frowned upon, especially beer – and for political reasons. Becaus Iceland was engaged in a struggle for independence from Denmark and locals associated beer with Danish lifestyle.
  • When the Icelandic Parliment, Althingi, finally lifted the ban a dozen beer-lovers flashed victory signs outside it, but there was little other public rejoicing.
  • Kexland hosts an annual Beer Festival on Beer Day.
  • The celebration of Beer Day in Iceland has inspired a similar event in the U.S., known as Iceland Beer Day.
  • Icelanders drink less than many of their European counterparts. The 7.1 litres of pure alcohol drunk annually by over-15s in Iceland, on average, compares with 11.4 litres in Denmark, 11.6 in the UK, 12.2 in France and 15.1 in Russia, according to research.
  • “Brugghús” is Icelandic for brewery, “rúntur” for bar hopping.
  • Beer is cheaper in Reykjavík than in the other Nordic capitals. At least according to the 2015 GoEuro Beer Price Index. Of the 75 cities that were included in the research, Reykjavík comes in 39th place, Stockholm at nr. 48, Helsinki 68 and Oslo 72.
  • The Beer School was founded in 2009. The academy is founded and owned by one of the biggest breweries in Iceland, Ölgerðin. The Beer School organizes lessons once a week where students sit together, listen to information about the beers and brewing and have a taste of different kinds of beer.

Main photo: Skúli Craft Bar, by Freyr Rúnarsson.

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