One of this year’s hottest travel destinations is a big island in the North Atlantic. Known for its beautiful coasts, stunning waterfalls, and massive glaciers, it’s easy to see why people are flocking to Iceland to see it all for themselves. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I hopped over the pond and visited this amazing country for ourselves with a few friends, and today I want to share with you all what I learned about Icelandic beer!
I have always loved to travel, and it was my four months of living in the Czech Republic that actually got me so interested in beer in the first place. Experiencing the cultures of different countries and learning about their histories has always been fascinating to me, and sometimes a country’s beer is an integral part of this experience.
However, I learned that the beer culture in Iceland is relatively new due to the fact that a 74 year prohibition of beer only just ended in 1989. The Icelandic government still strictly regulates the sale of alcohol, so my first tip for you is to buy any cans of beer that you would like to try in the duty-free store before you leave the airport. Not only will this be a little bit cheaper, but it will also prevent you from having to search for a store that sells alcohol.
Of course you can always just walk into a bar and order a beer in Iceland, and since we’re on the topic of saving money I’ll give you another tip: keep an eye out for happy hours! Everything in Iceland is quite a bit more expensive than it is in the U.S. (especially the Midwest), and beer is no exception. Luckily, many of the bars and restaurants we passed advertised their happy hour, and we were able to try many different beers for less than $5 per pint! If you order a beer outside of happy hour, be prepared to pay $10-$12 for that one drink.
In the two cities we visited, their were also some brewery tours available. We didn’t end up touring any of them, but it was very cool to see that this was an option and I will definitely keep this in mind if I make it back some day. One of the breweries that offers a tour is the Viking Brewery in Akureyri. Even though we didn’t visit the facility, we did get to try many of their beers at a local bar. My favorite of these was the classic Viking Lager, a clean, slightly sweet, light lager.
One thing I noticed in Iceland is that there were a lot of pilsners and other light lagers available to try. This makes perfect sense for two reasons: the climate and the water. As you may know, it can get pretty dang cold in Iceland (I mean, the country has “ice” in its name!) This is perfect for brewing lagers because this style of beer requires to be fermented and “lagered” (or “stored”) at cold temperatures.
I also noticed that a few of the breweries advertised how they only use the finest and purest glacier water. I did a little research after the trip and found that the water the brewers are using is naturally low in minerals. This “soft” glacier water is perfect for brewing beers that are lighter in color, like pilsners. As I discussed in my article about grains, this is because lighter colored grains will not cause a large drop in mash pH, so water that is low in minerals is ideal for hitting your target pH during the mashing stage of production.
All in all, the trip was incredible. I won’t go too in depth about it all since this isn’t a travel blog, but I will say that you should definitely rent a car, visit a bunch of waterfalls, and check out at least one of the hot springs (we went to the most famous, The Blue Lagoon). There is also a lot of good food to try. I really liked the traditional lamb soup and the Icelandic hot dogs, but I wasn’t a big fan of the fermented shark (but I think people only eat that for the experience).
If you want to learn more about traveling to Iceland on a budget, then check out my buddy’s blog post about how we did it! I would also love to hear from anyone who has been to Iceland or anyone who has any questions, so please leave a comment below!
This is my first post in a little while due to a recently busy travel schedule, but I’ll be picking back up on my series “Basic Equipment” and throwing in some homebrew reviews and recipes in the near future. I hope you’ll come back soon, skál! (that’s Icelandic for “cheers!”)