The craft beer craze came later to Iceland than some other countries. The reason behind the slowly moving trend can be attributed not only to the lack of ingredients – Iceland has to import most of the hops and barley – but also because beer was illegal in Iceland until the 1980s! When Iceland‘s prohibition ended, beer was left off the list of approved alcohol. As soon as the ban was lifted, brewers wasted no time in getting started. While the early breweries produced tasty pilsners and lagers, the options were limited. Over the past 10-15 years, however, craft breweries have been picking up the slack and creating all kinds of mouth-watering beers, from stouts to sours. Here are some of our favourite breweries.
Arguably the first microbrewery in Iceland, Kaldi began its operations in 2006 in Árskógssandur, a small fishing village with a population of around 100 people. Founders Ólafur and Agnes were inspired by a television programme about microbreweries abroad and decided to purchase some equipment from the Czech Republic and try their hand at the beer business. They based their original pilsner on a century-old Czech recipe and added cold Icelandic glacier water for a truly refreshing beer. Kaldi is still a small operation, but you can find their beers in almost every Vínbúðin store around Iceland.
Recommended beer: Kaldi blonde lager beer
One of the most successful craft breweries to pop up in Iceland is Einstök Beerworks. The company began to brew in 2011 in Akureyri in North Iceland. Its beer quickly gained the attention of consumers and critics alike, winning several awards in the 10+ years of its operation. They have also been successful in distributing their award-winning ales in different parts of the world so that Einstök has garnered an international fanbase. Their specialities include their white ale and pale ale, though they offer a variety of different beers. Check out their newly opened bar on Laugavegur in Reykjavik for a taste! Visitors to North Iceland can also swing by their bar and brewery in Akureyri for a visit.
Recommended beer: Einstök White Ale
Founded in 2017, Malbygg Brewery began its operations in Reykjavík the following year to the delight of beer lovers. Their slogan could be For Brewers By Brewers. While they have some standard beers – like their delicious Session IPA Sopi – Malbygg brews much smaller batches of wild and strange concoctions: sours, barrel-aged beer, and more. Each beer is different from the last, and the brewers appear intent on trying to outdo themselves. One thing is for certain: no matter which beer you choose, you are getting high-quality ingredients and some of the best beer to come out of Reykjavík.
Recommended beer: Flamingo Sour Ale
RVK Brewing Company
Founder Siggi retired from his work in the finance sector of New York City to pursue his passion back in his home country of Iceland: good beer. And he truly succeeded. RVK brewery has been a small operation, but beer by beer, they have made a name for themselves in Reykjavík. Their cosy taproom is situated on Skipholt, far from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area. Thankfully, though, several of their beers are now available at Vínbúðin, the Icelandic liquor store. RVK delighted Icelanders in 2021 when they revealed their Jólabjór (Christmas beer) designed to look like the classic Ora brand of peas and corn that can be found in grocery stores all around Iceland. Don‘t be fooled, though. The taste is a sweet winter ale with no hint of vegetables!
Recommended beer: Sömmer Lövin wheat beer
Lady Brewery emerged onto the Icelandic beer scene in late 2017 when Þórey Björk released First Lady, their signature IPA. The name of the company is fitting, as it is perhaps the only brewery owned and run by a woman. Though she did not intend to establish a local brewery and was just a beer lover trying out some recipes, First Lady impressed so many with its crisp and hoppy flavour that Lady Brewery began to grow and expand. The simple designs on their bottles and cans are intriguing but misleading. Inside is a world of different flavours and some of the most underrated beer in the city.
Recommended beer: First Lady IPA
The Brothers Brewery
Vestmannaeyjar is an archipelago off the south coast of Iceland, home to a population of under 5,000. In the last few years, this island community has made a name for itself in the culinary and beer world. Its most successful brewery, The Brothers Brewery, has become an Icelandic favourite all around the island. The idea for the brewery began all the way back in 2012, though it was a couple of years before they got their legs under them. What began in the back of a restaurant has developed into quite the production that employs 15 people and a variety of delicious flavours.
Recommended beer: Eldfell Volcano Red Ale
One of the earliest microbreweries in Iceland was Gæðingur, which is Icelandic for a „good riding horse.“ Their operations began in Skagafjörður on a farm called Útvík. Although they started out with some simple lagers, they soon found their niche with IPAs. They offer a variety of the hoppy beer style, including Hipster Unicorn, Sweet New England IPA, Sumar Tumi Session IPA, and their Total Eclipse Black IPA. Gæðingur is perhaps better known for Microbar, the first craft beer bar opened in Iceland. It has moved homes a few times but is now on Laugavegur near Hlemmur Square. There you can taste the best Gæðingur has to offer, as well as some other great local beers.
Recommended beer: Sumar Tumi New England session IPA
2017 was a busy year in the craft brewery world in Iceland. Another newcomer was Ægir Brewery based in the Grandi area of Reykjavík. Their huge facilities allow them to rent out their space to other smaller breweries who wish to use Ægir‘s equipment. In fact, the brewery prides itself on its collaborations with other breweries. Ægir also opened a new tasting room in Laugavegur downtown, where you can relax and try one of their many wild creations.
Recommended beer: HóHóHó Brown Ale (Christmas beer)
Around 2007, two farmers in the south of Iceland decided to try their hand at brewing beer. The result was Ölvisholt Brewery. What began in an old barn grew into a beloved brand throughout Iceland, and they have even begun exporting to Sweden and the United States. Their first beer, Skjálfti, means earthquake in Icelandic, but far from groundbreaking, the beer is a perfect California Lager. The brewers like to name their beers after characters in Old Norse mythology: the goddess Freya (witbier), Skaði (a giantess), and Sleipnir (Odinn‘s 8-legged horse). But they truly hit their stride with simply named Lava, an award-winning smoked imperial stout.
Recommended beer: Lava Smoked Imperial Stout
Get a Taste of Icelandic Beers
As you can see from the above, the variety is great and you might wonder where to start. An ideal starting point could be going on a beer tour in Reykjavík, where you can sample a variety of local beers and combine it with food as well: