The Ultimate Reykjavik Craft Beer Guide

Reykjavik Craft Beer Bar Guide

For a country where beer was illegal until 1989, Iceland sure has a fair amount of hardcore hop addicts. The drinking culture of Iceland has seen a major seismic shift ever since, and local beer geeks now celebrate the 1st of March as ‘Beer Day’, honoring the elimination of the 74-year prohibition.

Following the end of the ban, bars predominantly served mainstream lagers like Víking or Gull, but true beer recognition came in 2005, when Iceland’s first craft brewery was established on a remote farm in North Iceland (e.g. Bruggsmiðjan Brewery, which we visited in September 2015). Since then, Iceland’s beer scene has experienced a quantum leap with craft beer bars popping up in Reykjavik like dumpster divers around grocery stores after Thanksgiving Day.

To separate the men from the boys I’ll present you the pantheon of Reykjavik’s leading craft beer bars where you can find a fine selection of local produced and/or imported brews.

All are within minutes of walking from each other, so dip into the Icelandic artisan beer scene with the ultimate Reykjavik craft beer guide and go on a pub crawl just like we did.

Coffee, you’re on the bench, beer, suit up!

BjórgarðurinnBjórgarðurinn

Bjórgarðurinn means “beer garden” in Icelandic, but this isn’t your typical German biergarten with hop zombies drinking 1L beer mugs in lederhosen on long communal tables. After all, you’re in Reykjavik, so instead you’ll find a hotel bar designed as an upscale gastropub of gargantuan proportions. Upon entering the establishment the impressive ceiling height and huge decorative copper beer vats makes you feel like David against Goliath. But you know how the story goes and in this case Goliath has a belly full of delicious liquid gold.

With 22 taps of different styles and traits (predominantly from Icelandic breweries), Bjórgarðurinn has the largest selection of draft beers in Iceland (along a large collection of bottled IPA’s, stouts, lagers and Belgian style beers). This is a beer hub for serious hop heads. Also foodies are at the right address as they serve gourmet sausages paired with particular beers.

Suggestion:

Ölvisholt Skaði Farmhouse Ale: Brewed in the tradition of Belgian saison beers, this is a nicely balanced, fruity beer. Pours cloudy amber with a big ol’ foamy head. Aroma is malty, caramel, rye, yeast and some barnyard notes. Flavour is medium sweet with a sourish, light spicey end. Medium body. An all-around pleasant beer to start with.

  • Address: Þórunnartún 1, 105 Reykjavík
  • Opening hour: 11:30am – 12am
  • Hoppy Hour: daily between 4:30pm – 7pm bringing a 500 ISK discount on all large draft beers
  • Price: 500 ISK and up

kex-hostelKex Hostel

Housed in a former biscuit factory that overlooks Reykjavik’s waterfront, Kex Hostel is the poster boy of Icelandic cool. The owners transformed the abandoned building into a chic boutique hostel with an industrial themed bar where Reykjavik’s hipsterjugend gathers to watch off-shore engineers digging for beard oil.

Anyway, with 9 beers on tap, it’s an excellent place to continue your Reykjavik craft beer bar hopping spree. On draft they have some Icelandic microbrews (mainly from the Einstök and Viking stable) and a couple of foreign beers (like To Øl and Mikkeller).

Suggestion:

Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale: Clear amber to gold colour. Caramel and fruity aroma. First sip is rather malty, but turns into a fairly decent citrus-hoppy beverage. Moderate grassy bitterness with dry finish.

  • Address: Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavik
  • Opening hour: the hostel is open 24 hours, but the bar closes around midnight
  • Price: 700 ISK and up

kaldi-beer-bar

Kaldi Bar

Located off Reykjavik’s main shopping drag Laugavegur, Kaldi Bar is the tap outpost for Bruggsmiðjan Brewery. Being a fan of Czech beers, the owner of Bruggsmiðjan import hops, barley and malt from the Czech Republic and he even employs a Czech brew-master.

More than 10 Icelandic beers are offered on tap, mainly from the Kaldi house (and a couple of Borgs) including seasonal and unfiltered experimental brews. Sometimes they feature tap takeovers with multiple brews from one brand.

With hardwood floors, brick walls and wooden beams, this place has a Scandinavia-meets-Manhattan feel that attracts urban professionals from around the city. It can get quite crowded, especially during happy hour where a selection of large beers are available for 700 ISK.

The staff is passionate about their beers and generous with free samples.

Suggestion:

Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi IPA: Golden amber color with a foamy, offwhite head. Nose brings out piney hops and some grassy herbal notes. Medium body, moderately sweet and a lingering bitter resiny finish.

  • Address: Laugavegur 20b, 101 Reykjavik
  • Opening Hour: Sunday-Thursday: 12pm – 1am; Friday & Saturday: 12pm – 3am
  • Hoppy Hour: Friday 4pm – 7pm
  • Price: 700 ISK and up

mikkeller-bar-reykjavikMikkeller & Friends

Last year, world-renowned Danish craft brewer Mikkeller expanded their international empire with a new satellite bar in Reykjavik. Located in a circus-themed attic on top of a restaurant – which used to house Iceland’s first X-Ray clinic – Mikkeller & Friends is immensely popular among local bearded beer geeks. In 2015 the new kid on the block won The Reykjavik Grapevine’s “Best Newcomer Bar”-award hands down.

With 20 beers on tap, dominated mostly by Mikkeller and partner in crime To Øl plus a handful of guest beers from similarly independent microbreweries, the knowledgeable staff will guide you in your beer exploration. And if you’re not familiar with their brews, the beerista’s will offer you a splash, so you can try before you buy.

The beer menu changes every week so there is always something new to try. However, no focus on local brews.

Suggestion:

Mikkeller Hverfisgata Spontanale (named after the street where the bar is located): This 14-month unblended lambic ale is a Reykjavik exclusive.

  • Address: Hvervisgata 12, 101 Reykjavik
  • Opening Hour: 4pm (2pm on Fri & Sat) – 12am (1am on Thu – Sat)
  • Price: 700 ISK and up

skuli-craft-beer-barSkúli Craft Bar

This hop temple takes the beer game to a mean Chuck Norris level. No surprise The Reykjavik Grapevine rewarded them with the ‘Best Beer Selection’ of 2015.

The atmosphere is relaxed and warm, with a bright wooden bar midst a dark classic interior. And you can’t miss the big chalkboard that shows the current beer line-up. Six of 12 draft lines come from Borg Brugghús along with the likes of Omnipollo, Kaldi and a couple of Belgian icons when we were there.

Skúli is notable for its diverse and rapidly rotating taps so there’s always something new to try. Or if you are in the mood of tasting different brews, they also offer small glasses, a big plus for the wallet. And if the current mix of beers on tap does not suit your taste, bear in mind that they have a massive selection of premium bottled craft brews from all over the world. But beware, prices are hefty.

Suggestions:

Borg Úlfur Double IPA Nr. 17: Pours hazy gold with a white head. Distinct resiny and piney hops in the aroma. Taste is moderately bitter with malty thick sweetness. Grapefruit flavour followed by lots of earthy hop and biscuit notes in the back.

Borg Leifur Nr. 32: A Nordic saison named after the Icelandic exlorer Leifur Eiríksson (who discovered America 400 years before Columbus). Leifur is brewed with an arctic thyme from Iceland and it comes with a rich white head. Aroma brings out peachy and floral notes. Earthy yeast flavour with bready notes and a light honey finish. Medium body.

  • Address: Aðalstræti 9, 101 Reykjavik
  • Opening Hour: Sunday-Thursday: 2pm – 11pm; Friday & Saturday: 2pm – 1am
  • Hoppy Hour: 2pm – 7pm
  • Price: 900 ISK and up

Microbar-reykjavik-beerMicroBar

Owned by Gæðingur, a small brewery in North Iceland, MicroBar is generally considered the pioneer of the Icelandic craft beer scene as they were the first bar in Reykjavik that would strictly offer microbrews. So the perfect spot to end a Reykjavik craft beer bar crawl.

MicroBar has up to 12 beers on tap (mainly dominated by the brand’s own varieties but they also feature other Icelandic microbrews) and more than 200 bottled beers from around the world (including Alesmith, Mikkeller, Evil Twin, To Øl, Cantillion and even Westvleteren).

If you can’t decide, boards of five or ten tasters are on offer so you can sample the whole range for a special prize.

Suggestions:

Gæðingur Stout: Nicely balanced Stout. Mild body but full of flavor. Aroma of roasted coffee and caramel. Sweet taste of chocolate and roasted malts.

Gæðingur Tumi Humall IPA: A bright and fruity IPA. Straw-yellow with a huge aroma of citrus and tropical fruits. Slightly sweet and medium bitter. Peach and floral flavour with resiny notes.

  • New address since November 2015: Vesturgata 2, 101 Reykjavik (previously located at Austurstræti 6)
  • Opening Hour: 4pm – 12:30am
  • Hoppy Hour: 5pm – 7pm
  • Price: 700 ISK and up

BONUS: Vínbúðin

Only low-alcohol beer is available in supermarkets. To buy Icelandic craft beer, you must go to one of the state-operated liquor stores (Vínbúðin). I recommend the one in Heiðrún, which is the largest Vínbúðin in Iceland. Although it’s pricier than the shop at Keflavik Airport, they have a much wider selection of local microbrews and imported craft beer. So it’s definitely worth a visit for something a bit different to take home.

You can find the address and opening hours of Heiðrún here.

Or check for the nearest Vínbúðin store here.

Suggestions to take home:

Ölvisholt Lava: A smoked imperial stout. Thick and black, with a nice brown head. Aroma of roasted malt, caramel, chocolate and some vanilla notes. Flavour is medium sweet with a light bitter and a dry roasted finish. Not the heaviest Imperial Stout, but it’s smooth and complex with a subtle smokey touch.

Borg Úlfur IPA Nr. 3: Well balanced mean IPA. Pours golden colour. Tropical fruits on the nose. Dark candy and piney notes too. Saturated with american hops. Medium bitterness at 60 IBU. Citrus and grapefruit flavour with grainy, slightly toasted caramelly finish .

 

Done with touristy recommendations in your travel guide?

Eat, drink and mingle with locals with my Pinterest guide to Reykjavik:

One Response to “The Ultimate Reykjavik Craft Beer Guide

  • Great story! … facebook.com/groups/beerhiketravel/ … … please join group and share your beer/travel stories and pictures #beer #hiking #travel

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