Prohibition in Iceland was enacted in 1915, when alcohol was generally frowned upon, especially beer, for political reasons. Iceland was involved in a struggle for independence from Denmark at the time, and Icelanders strongly associated beer with Danish lifestyles. Beer was not the “patriotic” drink of choice since Danes drank eight times as much alcohol per person annually.
When Spain threatened to stop importing salted cod, Iceland’s most profitable export at the time, if Iceland did not buy its wine, they legalized wine in 1922. All alcohol except beer, with more than 2.25% alcohol content, was legalized in 1935. Politically, because beer association with Denmark continued to tarnish its image, full-strength beer was not allowed in Iceland until March 1, 1989.
So, that raises the question, where can I get a good beer today? Check out these Icelandic breweries in no particular order. Skål! (cheers!)
1. Lady Brewery
Inspired by Icelandic nature, Lady Brewery is an all-female-run microbrewery emphasizing the feminine approach to craft brewing. The headquarters, experimental kitchen, supermarket, and growler bar are in Reykjavik’s harbor area, where you can hang out, taste, and converse.
Þórey Björk Halldórsdóttir runs the ambitious gypsy brewery in Iceland, a woman with a desire to create exquisitely tasting beer and beer-related experiences. Starting in 2017, the signature First Lady IPA beer focused on quality, taste, storytelling, and collaborations with chefs, food, and design artists. Look for Lady Brewery beers at selected bars, restaurants, and the Vínbúðin alcohol shops.
Basic Bitch Lager is a five-star 4.5% basic, brewed year-round. Dream Baby Dream, NEIPA is a 7.2% double dry hopped New England IPA. Loksins Loksins, or Finally Finally, is a 4.7% Gose with wheat, lime peel, coriander, salt, white pepper, sorghum, hops, and yeast.
Drink Like A Girl, a light and easy 4.8% Hazy Ale, has a balanced bitterness, packed with fruits, flowers, and a tad of freshly cut grass. This beer, introduced on International Women’s Day, represents the new generation of young women standing strong, independent, and together.
I like Kokotaru, a new sparkling tea drink with 0% alcohol, inspired by fusing Taiwanese tea blends with handpicked Icelandic chamomile and rhubarb. Perfectly balanced sweet peaches and rhubarb shine through, with no artificial flavoring, no additives, vegan, and aimed as an alternative to a soda or non-alcoholic beverage for the whole family.
Inspired by the ocean and nature, Von Cream Ale is fit for all seasons and fabulous with food and alone. This ale, containing hip grass and family seeds from Icelandic nature, is always fresh on tap and available in glass.
2. Einstök Ölgerð
Einstök Brewery is in the fishing port of Akureyri, Iceland, 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Here, the purest water on Earth flows from prehistoric glaciers down the Hlíðarfjall Mountain through ancient lava fields, offering perfect brewing water as the foundation of Einstök craft ales.
Einstök Beer makes superior craft brews, true to its Icelandic heritage and pure glacial water. Available in 24 countries, Einstök is the number one craft beer in Iceland and the country’s number one alcohol export. The craft beer market segment grew 21% to $26.8 billion in 2021, with the beer market expected to double by 2028 to $210.8 billion. You can get Einstök beer in the U.S. in 22 states and via Total Wine, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Publix, Target, and more.
My favorite, the Einstök Icelandic White Ale, is a classic Belgian style witbier, a clean, crisp beer balanced with bright orange peel and coriander, the flagship of the fleet of beers.
For a dark brew, Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter blends aromatic coffee, dark chocolate notes, and toasted malt that is smooth and easy to drink.
Einstök Icelandic Arctic Lager, worthy of any thirsty Viking, offers a delectable combination of Munich & Pilsner malts and dry-hopped Citra & Citra Cryo hops for a full-flavored, refreshing lager.
Einstök Icelandic Wee Heavy will ransack your tastebuds with a blend of birch-smoked barley and fabled herb Icelandic Angelica, used by the Vikings, resulting in a robust smoky Scotch Ale.
The Einstök Icelandic Arctic Pale Ale combines three kinds of hops: cascade hops for American personality, Hallertau tradition, and Bavarian Northern Brewer hops to soften the bitterness, resulting in a refreshing ale loved by every modern Viking.
3. Ölvisholt Brewery
The first beer produced by Ölvisholt, Skjalfti, California Common Lager, has a rich, fruity aroma with malty character and balanced bitterness, perfect to pair with light meat, cheeses, or spicy food.
Freyja Witbier, named for the goddess of love and fertility, is a fresh, unfiltered, Belgian cloudy witbier with a fruity, citrus, and spicy aroma that goes perfectly with seafood or spicy food.
Another year-round brew is Blaberja Freyja, a blueberry witbier with added blueberries and citrus. Freyja is fresh, unfiltered, and cloudy with fruity spices and citrus paired with seafood or spicy food.
The seasonal 24 Barley Wine, 10% ABV, is a noble English Barley Wine. The beer boasts a complex malty profile with rich tastes of caramel and dried fruits, at its best over the holidays.
Hel, Ölvisholt’s Winter Porter, is a silky smooth, dark porter beer. Hel is the daughter of the trickster god Loki and troll woman Angurooa cast into the underworld of Niflheim, where she ruled over those who died of sickness or old age. Enjoy the rich smell of coffee and chocolate, a dark beer with malt and light bitterness, chocolate, and a little roast, paired with smoked foods, barbecue, sausage, stews, chili, and braised dishes.
4. Segull 67
A small family-owned craft brewery in the remote north fishing village of Siglufjörður, Iceland, 25 miles from the Arctic Circle, Segull 67 brewhouse is in an old fish factory the family adopted, grandfather, father, and son. Segull means magnet in Icelandic, the brewery connects to the magnetic north in the compass, and the lucky number 67 is a family tradition.
A brewery tour and tasting takes about one hour, where you’ll taste a round of four to five beers, learn the history, and see the old fish processing factory.
The Seagull 67 Original beer is an amber lager, well-balanced, easy to drink, with a smooth malt character. Sjarmör Icelandic Craft Lager is a light-colored fresh lager with a hint of hops and grain.
Sigló IPA is an Indian pale ale with many American fresh hops and a fruity, citrus, peachy taste. Naggur IPA is a drinkable session with earthy, fruity aromas, and slight bitterness.
Stop here after your trip to Skarosdalur, the local ski area, or explore the northern lights.
5. Borg Brugghús
Founded in 2010, Borg Brugghús is an award-winning progressive craft brewery with a chief aim to incorporate Icelandic cultural traits and local ingredients into its wide variety of beers.
Comparing almost 100 beers, Nr. 1 Bríó Pilsner is an award-winning pale, crisp German-style pilsner blending Bavarian hops and a mild floral aroma. Nr. 12 Lúðvík is a robust and deep copper red Doppelbock brewed with Belgian malts, with notes of burnt caramel and dried fruit.
Nr.50 ÚLFUR ÚLFUR ÚLFUR is a triple IPA brewed with Citra and El Dorado hops with an intense but delicate aroma and taste. Nr. 70 Skuli, a light and cloudy Pale Ale balances hop with a peach and guanabana aroma for sweetness. The newest, Nr. 96 Helga is a raspberry sour with only 0.5% alcohol, a chilled and refreshing summertime thirst quencher.
Pro Tip: Visit this brewery after seeing Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik.
6. Egils Gull
Egils Gull offers the traditional, crisp lager brewed by Ölgerðin. Gull is one of Iceland’s most famous brands, enjoyed by Icelanders since March 1, 1989, when the country lifted the 70-year beer prohibition. Gull has a golden color, small white head, lightly toasted malt nose, grainy aroma, and fresh lemony hops in the mouth. Gull brews the beer in the style of pale Munich lagers from locally grown barley, pilsner malt, and pure Icelandic water. Awards include World’s Best Standard Lager at the 2011 World Beer Awards.
Egils Gull Lite is gluten-free, with fewer calories and a lower alcohol level.
7. RVK Brewing Company
The brewery taproom is around the back of the RVK Brewery in downtown Reykjavik. The founder, Siggi, who worked for years in the New York City financial sector, found his true passion for making good beer in Iceland.
Some of the brews on tap are Barfluga Vienna Lager, crisp and refreshing with a hint of citrus, or After Hours Amber, a Red American Amber offering deep golden hues, a rich malty body, a bit of caramel, and a soft bitter finish.
The Verum Bara Vinir is a light, refreshing sour beer with passion fruit and skyr. A celebrated local favorite, the Hlemmur hazy IPA is loaded with three hops creating a balance of bitterness.
In bottles and cans, order Eftir Sex, a Brett amber ale brewed for the holidays. RVK Drunken Monkey is an American lager brewed with yuzu and Sichuan peppers in collaboration with Dragon Dim Sum restaurant.
For more information on traveling to Iceland, check out these articles: