A Beer Guide to Iceland

ViaHero · May 17, 2018

Tourists and locals both agree - there is nothing like ending a long day of hiking and exploring in Iceland with a fresh, local brew.  Beer has been an integral part of Iceland’s history since the Vikings first landed on the island over 1000 years ago.  

Read on to learn all about beer in Iceland. Once you've given the article a read, feel free to message us with any questions about beer or all things Iceland.

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Iceland's history with beer

As much as Icelanders love beer, their relationship with the beverage has been rocky (to say the least) over the past century. While beer is currently one of the most popular beverages in the country, the drink was banned from 1915 to 1989 - over 70 years! Iceland underwent prohibition in the early 20th century, and while red wine and spirits quickly returned to the market, it wasn’t until 1989 - March 1st, 1989, to be exact - that beer return to Iceland.

iceland beer brewery

Many attribute the long prohibition on beer to the fact that drinking beer was seen as a very "Danish" thing to do. As the country worked to distance themselves from the Danes throughout the 20th century, drinking beer was not viewed favorably. 

Today, beer is back and better than ever before.  There are fantastic breweries scattered across this tiny island, brewing everything from classic pilsners, to whale testicle beer (yes, you read that correctly).

This guide will detail everything you need to know on beer in Iceland.  If you're looking for a truly unique spot to have a beer, ask a local to share their favorite pub in Iceland - Skál!

Beer-drinker slang in Icelandic

  • Bjór: Beer 
  • Skál: Cheers 
  • Brugghús: Brewery
  • Rúntur: Pub crawl
  • Vínbúðin: A place that is legally allowed to sell beer (state-run liquor store), sometimes called “the Monopoly”

National Beer Day

On March 1st every year, Iceland celebrates the anniversary of the legalization of beer by - you guessed it - drinking a lot of beer! The country gets drunk together in bars, restaurants, breweries, and clubs, with many establishments in Reykjavík staying open until 4:00 AM the next day.

drinking beer in iceland

Breweries you need to visit in Iceland

Ölgerðin Egils Skallagrímsson

Nickname: Egils/Ölgerðin

About: One of "the big guys" in Iceland beer (think Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors). Egils is the oldest beer producing factory in Iceland, and has been one of the most popular breweries in Iceland since the beer ban was lifted.

Popular beers: 

  • Egils Gull
  • Egils Premium
  • Egils Pilsner

Borg

About: Craft brewery that is a subsidiary of Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery.  Borg produces a multitude of beers throughout the year, including classic pilsners and IPAs, and seasonal releases.

Popular beers:

  • Bríó pilsner
  • Úlfur IPA
  • Garún stout

Víking (Vifilfell)

About: Another "big guy" and early player in the Icelandic beer market, hailing from Northern Iceland. Currently one of the most purchased beers in Iceland, mostly producing lagers.

Popular beers:

  • Viking Gylltur
  • Viking Lager
  • Viking Lite

Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi

Nickname: Kaldi

About: Kaldi was the first craft brewery in Iceland (founded in 2006). Kaldi brews using techniques from the Czech Republic.  All of their beers are brewed by German quality law, using only basic raw materials: water, malted barley, hops and yeast.  They have a wide variety of styles, and some seasonal releases.

Popular beers:

  • Kaldi blond (the most sold bottled beer in Iceland)
  • Kaldi dark
  • Norðan Kaldi (English style ale)

Einstök Ölgerð

Nickname: Einstök

About: Hailing from Northern Iceland, Einstök uses glacial waters to brew their beers.  They have a range of styles, though they focus on “quality over quantity,” and produce unique styles. 

Popular beers:

  • Winter Ale with “Whisky-Soaked Spruce Tips”
  • Artic Pale Ale that is “Triple-Hopped for Flavor and Balance.”
  • Wee Heavy, a “Scottish Ale with Smoked Icelandic Barley.”

Gæðingur Brugghús

Nickname: Gæðingur

About: Gaeoingur is a craft brewery in the remote town of Sauðárkrókur in Northern Iceland, yet it is the third-largest microbrewery in Iceland. They produce a range of the popularized beer styles of the past few years. 
Popular beers:

  • Gæðingur IPA
  • Gæðingur Pale Ale
  • Gæðingur Hveitibjór

Ölvisholt Brugghús

Nickname: ÖB

About: Olvisholt Bruggus is a popular brewery that produces funky and unique beers.This microbrewery is located on an old dairy farm in South Iceland.

Popular beers:

  • Skjálfti (Premium Lager)
  • Freyja (Belgian style Witbier)
  • Lava (Smoked Imperial Stout)

Brugghús Steðja

Nickname: Steoji

About: A tiny, family-run brewhouse in West Iceland.  Makes a lot of classic style beers, and then some very unique styles, like their infamous whale beer, Hvalur.

Popular beers:

  • Steðji Almáttugur (Porter)
  • Steðji Icelandic Nordic Lights (Amber Ale)

Other tiny breweries:

  • Kex Brewing
  • The Brothers Brewery
  • Segull 67

Brewpubs

Brewpubs have started to emerge as another popular way to brew and consume beer in Iceland (imagine those burgers and TV bars in the United States, but much classier). Some popular places include:

  • Hún/Hann brugghú
  • Jon riki
  • Bryggjan Brugghús

Locals choice: favorite bars for beer

  • Skúli Crafts Bar
  • MicroBar
  • Kaldi Bar Cafe
  • Hlemmur Square
  • Mikkeller & Friends
  • A local can always recommend their favorite spot to get a cold brew! 

Further reading on beer in Iceland: 

 

Still deciding on what breweries you should visit in Iceland? Message us directly or speak to an Iceland travel guru who will do it all for you. And before your trip, make sure to check out:

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