This is the first in a series of posts describing the beers I tried and bars I visited on my April/May 2013 trip to Europe.
Iceland has a very interesting history with beer. It was part of the county’s initial prohibition on all alcoholic beverages implemented in 1915. Wine was taken off the banned list in 1921, and spirits followed in 1935, but beer stronger than 2.5% ABV was outlawed until 1989. The reason given for the beer ban lasting so long was that beer was so much cheaper than spirits, and the lower cost would lead to increased consumption and ‘depravity’. It’s funny to see ‘depravity’ thrown in there, especially since Reykjavik is known for ‘runtur’, a heavy-drinking, bar-hopping scene that takes place into the wee hours of the morning each weekend.
I’d learned about this history back on my visit in 1998, and I didn’t think much about craft beer in Iceland leading up to the trip, expecting just to have four dry days while there, which was fine since I knew I would make up for it once I hit The Netherlands and Belgium. A few weeks before, my beer guru here in the States, who I buy almost all my beer from, showed my an Icelandic smoked stout from the Ölvishol Brugghús. With stouts not being my thing, I didn’t try it, but it opened my eyes to the possibility of a craft beer scene there.
My first night in Reykjavik I stopped in at a local convenience store for a quick bite of fries and one of Iceland’s extremely addictive hot dogs known locally as a pylsur. I saw a couple of local beers on the shelf and decided to give one a try.
“Are you sure you really want to try this?”, the gentleman behind the counter asked in the typical, unaccented English you get almost everywhere in this multi-lingual country. “It’s really terrible.”
Obviously, I was a little surprised. “I’m a big craft beer fan, and I want to try a beer or two in every country I’m visiting”, I explained, almost apologetically.
“We actually have some smaller breweries now that produce much higher quality beer.” He proceded to take my map of Reykjavik and dot out directions to a place he assured me I could try some of the local craft brews.
The next evening, I took a taxi from my suburban guesthouse to city center, where I walked into the bar he’d suggested, a small place known as The Micro Bar. One look at the taps and the long list on the wall of the imported beers available, I knew I’d found the right place.
I told the bartender, Steinn, that I was looking to try some of the Icelandic microbrews I had been told about. My first two beers were very good, an American-style IPA and a Belgian Blonde from the Gæðingur Brugghús, a brewery who’s founders were very much intergal in the growth of the craft beer market in Iceland. Steinn was knowledgeable about world beers to and I had a reat conversation with him about my passion for Belgian beers and my plans to try many when I got there.
My third beer was a good amber ale called Norðan Kaldi, and my final beer was a non-discript lager called Skjálfti from the previously mentioned, well-reputed Ölvisholt Brugghús.
The Micro Bar is a great little bar, staffed by beer aficionados and is highly recommended to visitors to Reykjavik who are interested in trying Icelandic made beers, or are looking to get high quality imported beer. I spent two more days in Iceland, but didn’t have time to visit any other bars while there. I intend to go back to the country a few years from now and drive the entire ring road, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much the craft beer industry has grown.