Iceland – a land of mystery and intrigue, of volcanoes and glaciers, and of beer since… 1989?
Yes folks, Icelandic prohibition was only lifted 27 years ago since coming into effect in 1908. Ok that’s not technically true, spirits have been legal since 1935 but a ban on the sale of what the Icelandic government termed ‘strong beer’ remained until ’89 – that strong beer being over 2.25% ABV!
And that lifting of the ban gave me great joy when I recently visited Iceland for the third time to celebrate Mrs W’s ‘significant’ birthday. In between snowmobiling across a glacier and sampling some fantastic fish dishes we visited some cool and funky little bars in Reykjavik such as Kaffibarinn although be warned – this place for some reason prohibits any photography up at the bar, beer geeks and Untappd users take note. If popping in, make sure you say hi to the barman from Hillsborough, County Down, he has a degree in Icelandic! Edit: I’ve since been informed the photography ban eradicates selfies with celebrities or drunken social media pics, apparently.
If you find the Lava Smoked Imperial stout by Ölvisholt Brugghús, get ready for a taste sensation. It possesses a great smokiness that hides the 9.4% ABV so be careful how many you have. Also very tasty but going out of season now is the Kaldi Súkkulaði or Chocolate Porter from Bruggsmiðjan.
|Lava Smoked Imperial Stout and Chocolate Porter|
Like Northern Ireland, craft breweries in Iceland have shot up in number since 2010. The new Bryggjan Brugghús at the edge of Reykjavik port is well worth a visit. When I visited there was the in-house brewed pale, lager and IPA, guest draught brews from Borg and bottles from other breweries on the island. This is a very modern brewpub-restaurant where you could lose an entire day drinking but watch your spending, it ain’t cheap.
Other craft beer bars such as Skúli Bar or Íslenski Barinn serve a great selection of Icelandic beer and the world renowned Mikkeller and Friends can also be found in Reykjavik. It was a coincidence it was the closest bar to our hotel, honestly! Just make sure your wallet is sturdy enough and the credit card isn’t prone to melting at the thought of beers costing upwards of £20 for 400ml! Yeah you read that right. Though the average is around £6-£8. My inner Ballymena man is away for a lie down just writing this.
|Mikkeller and Friends bar|
|Mikkeller Mexan Ranger – a great chilli stout|
|20 pumps of beer – all at an eye watering price|
|Omnipollo’s Nebuchadnezzar at Skúli bar|
|From Norway, 7 Fjell’s Svartidiket Black IPA|
A good tip is to pick up some 6-packs of local brews at the airport when leaving for home. Bottles of Víking Ölgerd Einiberja/Juniper Bock or Borg Brugghús Úlfur Nr 3 IPA can cost less than £2 each with Borg’s Garún Nr 19 (11.5% ABV stout) less than £3, a serious bargain. Congrats to Keflavik airport for having such a variety of great local beer on sale, Northern Ireland airports should take note – THIS is how to stock local beer for departing tourists!
|Borg’s popular Úlfur Nr. 3 IPA|
Reykjavik is a great city to discover emerging new breweries. It’s only a couple of hours by plane from Belfast and the locals are very accommodating and friendly. Oh by the way, did I mention to bring plenty of money? Skál / Cheers!