Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Food & Drink

The Downtown Microbrew Walk: A guided walk through the history of beer in Iceland

By Staff

  • Skál! (cheers in Icelandic) Kaldi Bar on Klapparstígur street is the final destination of the tour. In addition to beer, participants also have the opportunity to taste Iceland’s signature liquor Brennivín  (a.k.a. “black death”) with a piece of fermented shark, which is not for the faint-hearted.

One of the many strange things about Iceland is the fact that beer was actually banned until very recently. From 1915 to 1989, you couldn’t buy alcoholic beer anywhere! On March 1, 1989 (known as “Beer Day” ever since), this unique and strange ban on beer was abolished, thus finally giving Icelanders a chance to legally enjoy this second most popular drink in the world.

A Microbrew Revolution
It took Icelanders a few years to get accustomed to this new drink. For the first decade and a half, virtually all beer sold in Iceland was standard, mass-produced pale lager. But in the last ten years, Iceland has experienced a true “microbrew revolution.” This revolution started in 2006, when the first microbrewery, brewing the popular Kaldi beer, opened in the small village of Árskógssandur in North Iceland. Since then, numerous new microbreweries have been launched by adventurous Icelandic brewers, experimenting with new ingredients, continually expanding the selection of high quality beers in Iceland.

 

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Garún The Icelandic Stout (11.5% alcohol by volume) is intensely rich and its aroma has notes of chocolate, licorice, and coffee.

The scale and scope of this revolution is truly striking. Currently there are nine microbreweries and brewpubs in operation in Iceland, with three more preparing to launch. This figure is pretty remarkable when we compare it to the total population of Iceland: Iceland has one microbrewery for every 37,000 inhabitants, twice as many as the US, which has one for every 80,000 inhabitants.

From the Viking age to the present
This spring, the tour operator Creative Iceland is offering a 2.5-hour guided walk which takes you to some of the best microbrew bars in downtown Reykjavík. The guide, Magnús Helgason, a historian, journalist, and veteran bartender, will introduce guests to the colorful history of beer in Iceland and the “microbrew revolution”—its causes and consequences.

The tour also aims at introducing people to the history of Reykjavík and Iceland through the unique history of beer from the Viking age to the present. Why was beer not permitted until 1989? What do beer and hot tubs have to do with the settlement of Reykjavík? What did Icelanders drink during the beer-ban years, and what has propelled the recent explosion of craft brewing in Iceland?

This is not just the story of beer, it really is the story of Iceland and one of the strangest aspects of Icelandic culture and history.
The tours are offered on Sunday afternoons, and by appointment. For booking, prices, further information, and inquiries head over to creativeiceland.is

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