Iceland is a place known for many things. Of course there are our mammoth glaciers, explosive volcanoes, and careening waterfalls. But in addition to the abundance of natural beauty that we are blessed with, there's something else you'll want to experience during your trip. Icelandic beer is known for its ingenuity and creativity, and fans of barley, hops, and malts are in heaven when they arrive.
We have a strong brewing culture in Iceland and some of the tastiest beers around. We’ve compiled a list of authentic beer in Iceland. The picks on our list must be made in Iceland by Icelanders, so you know it’s 100% the real thing.
Beer in Iceland: Craft culture rules the day
Icelandic beer is an integral part of culture, along with getting together with friends in bars and cafés. There's nothing like getting a few refreshing beers or a pale ale with those closest to you and having a catch-up session. And Icelanders are definitely beer connoisseurs and big fans of craft beers. But up until very recently we were not allowed to enjoy one of our favorite beverages in public.
Iceland beer: Banned until 1989
Beer in Iceland is ubiquitous. What surprises many, however, is that Iceland beer was banned up until just about three decades ago. That's right; If your drink was made from brewed hops, it was illegal to drink. The beer ban in Iceland lasted from 1915 to 1989.
When the ban was lifted by the government, we had Beer Day to celebrate. Even though is was banned in Iceland for nearly 75 years, Iceland beer never lost its popularity or the love of its true fans. Today, there are even beer tölt competitions, which challenge participants to ride a horse with a beer in their hand without spilling a drop.
How much is a beer in Iceland?
While beer is considered an economical drink option in many countries, if you compare it to prices here, you might be unpleasantly surprised. A beer in Iceland costs around $8, which will probably come as a shock to many. But it's still cheaper than a glass of wine or a simple cocktail, which can both run you $10 each.
By the way, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with Vinbuðin chain liquor stores. Alcohol is both heavily taxed and heavily regulated in Iceland. This means that the only place you can buy your own booze is either at duty-free at Keflavik Airport or the government-run Vinbuðin liquor stores.
To be honest, I recommend stocking up for your trip at duty-free rather than buying at an alcohol shop during your trip. You'll save a ton of money and buffer yourself against the eye watering price of beer in Iceland.
And of course, be sure to download the AppyHour app if you want to grab a drink during their Iceland vacation. This alerts you to drink specials and places where you can get happy hour discounts on beer, wine, and spirits.
The best Icelandic beers: What are the top brands?
Many icelanders have their preferred favorite micro brewery on Laugavegur Street in downtown Reykjavik or elsewhere. Because craft culture, beer culture, and microbrewing are so popular here, there is a plethora of Icelandic beers to choose from. Icelandic craft beer is a very broad topic, so let's look at some favorites.
You'll find Brio on tap at just about every Iceland bar that you go to. It's a popular beer from Borg Brugghús. It's got an earthy taste and velvety texture, with hints of sweetness. It's a simple, solid beer many tasters enjoy. And in 2012 it received the World's Best Pilsner at the World Beer Cup. With a name meaning "joy", you absolutely have to try it. Bottoms up!
Borg Brugghús is an award-winning craft brewery founded in 2010 and a major player on the Iceland brewery scene. Several popular Icelandic beers come from these skilled, proud brewmakers.
Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi Blonde Pilsner
Yet another prominent producer on Iceland's beer making scene is Kaldi. In fact, they even have their own bar and a beer spa near Akureyri. More on that later. For now let's focus on this particularly refreshing tasty drop with a smooth texture inspired by Czech lager. It's the most popular bottled beer in Iceland and just perfect for kicking back at the end of the day.
Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi has flourished since 2006 as one of the top craft suppliers. You can get Blonde and others on tap at Kaldi bar on Laugavegur street 20b in downtown Reykjavik.
And a tip, if you have an Iceland car rental, beware if you hit the bars for a night out. Drivers here must have a blood alcohol level of 0% before getting behind the wheel. Even if you’ve only knocked back one cold one all night, hand the keys over to someone else.
Borg Brugghús Úlfur India Pale Ale
The Borg Brewhouse (Borg Brugghús) also makes Úlfur (meaning “wolf”), which is an India Pale Ale. It has a hoppy taste, golden color, sweet aroma, and hints of grapefruit and pine. This is a popular Icelandic brew available at Vinbuðin stores and occasionally on tap at Slippbarinn.
The best Icelandic beer: Ölvisholt Lava
Just as Ireland is famous for its dark Stout, Guinness, Iceland has its own dark brown beer. It's a full-bodied beer with a thick brown head flavored with roasted malt and dark chocolate. This award-winning beer took the 2012 title for Best Imperial Smoked Beer at the US Open Beer Championship. It is a shining example of brewing excellence in Iceland and has been recognized as such. If you only try one of the options mentioned on this list, make it Lava, the best Icelandic beer.
While there's not room for all of Iceland's amazing beers on this list there are a few more that you should definitely check out during your road trip.
This is probably one of the most delicious beers in Iceland. With the unique blend of flavors, it will leave you thirsting for more. The stout is produced by Gædingur Micro Brewery and can be found on tap at Micro Bar. The Reykjavik drinking institution also feature some other Gædingur flavors.
This Akureyri brewery is known for its hard work, Innovation, and craftsmanship. They put only Icelandic ingredients into their popular Toasted Porter, White Ale, Arctic Pale Ale, Wee Heavy, and others. Taste and strength varies from beer to beer, so try them all on to see which one you like best.
Surtur imperial stouts
While there are many of these, NR 8.2 and NR 8.4 come highly recommended. Surtur NR 8.2 has more of a vanilla-ish, oaky taste. Surtur NR 8.4 more bitter, with hints of licorice coffee, and a dark chocolate.
An unforgettable visit to Kaldi beer spa
For you beer superfans out there, forget about the Northern Lights, dazzling as they may be. What you need is a trip to the Kaldi beer spa in Akureyri, Iceland’s capital of the north. If you’ve ever heard of the beer bath Iceland or the beer spa Iceland, this is what people are talking about.
At first glance, this might seem a bit unusual. After all, beer is meant to be imbibed, not soaked in, right? Well actually, there are some surprising health benefits to bathing in your favorite brew. It's a live beer yeast in the bath of young beer that not only benefits your skin, but also rejuvenates your body.
And if you're tempted to take a little sip, not so fast. Kaldi beer spa has prepared for this. They've got cold beer on tap next to every tub, so fill ‘er up with some Kaldi.
Icelandic Beer: Our Tastiest Drops
If beer is your tipple of choice, you’ll no doubt be amazed and impressed by the selection of Icelandic brews. Who knows; we may even give Belgium (the world’s biggest beer drinkers) a run for their money. With hundreds of brands from dozens of breweries, there’s healthy competition that keep the lager and ale market evolving. What's your opinion on the best Icelandic beer?
Everyone’s tastes and preferences are different, so I guess you’ll just have to come here and sample them all of yourself. Cheers!