I visited Iceland on a three day stopover en route to Oslo and Germany, making use of the convenient Iceland Air direct Denver-to-Keflavik route that drops you in Iceland in just over 7 hours.
It has only been legal to make beer in Iceland since 1989, so the beer scene is young. By 2014 the culture has evolved into equal parts tradition and new western. The specialty beer bars of Reykjavik, many of which reside in hotel lobbies, offer more than 50 different Icelandic beers for the traveler to choose from. I personally do not find the winter “Juleøl” spiced ales very interesting, so skipped most that I found.
I managed to sample and review more than 30 Icelandic beer during my first short visit. Here I offer my personal top 10.
Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter
A roast-heavy robust Porter with surprising expression and balance. Savory chocolate, roasted grains, German chocolate fudge cake, mild lactose / yeast, a charred campfire wood character, even a salty brine quality... all wrapped up in a savory, full body. It’s actually one of the few stout/porter at regular weight which seem strange to get so much character simply from malt. Lightly sweet with a beefy malt mouth feel, medium bitterness, a bit of roast / char astringency, medium to high carbonation. Pepper, roast heavy, a little inky, very chocolately but entirely malt-derived. Icelanders should be commended for this and the Borg porter, two of the most flavorful and well-balanced beers I had during my trip, each made without adjuncts or flavorings and at a reasonable gravity. From bottle at Keflavik Airport.
Borg Myrkvi Nr. 13
Bottle at Ölstofa in Reykjavik. A lot of chocolate malt with some roast and black patent char / inkiness. Smooth carbonation with creamy, milky, soft malt. Dark chocolate syrup character, medium to low sweetness, decadent and savory, well balanced, lacks flaws. One of the few Icelandic beers I would drink regularly.
bottle in crock. gravel / mineral / calcium deposits on plumping pipes, that sort of smell. more grain husks, charred wood and acetic acid shows up as it opens. rich and full bodied. expected chocolate syrup, chocolate chews and roast. char or smoke is mild. salted chocolate and caramel layered dessert comes to mind.
5% Premium Lager
5% Premium Lager
Bottle best by Dec 2013. Lightly hazed gold with a short head. Lemon / spice spalt-like hop aroma with quiet pale malt / biscuit character. Effervescent carbonation with mild prickly hop acids give it a lot of vibrancy, and the fermentation is clean and the malt expressed well. It’s a little more full-bodied than most lagers / pilsners. As it opens there’s some faint dirtiness / chemical notes but they are quiet enough and outshined by the hop juiciness. Solid lager. Whatever problems they had with previous batches have been resolved. This newer batch (gold label) is quite clean, well-balanced, expressive and drinkable in large amounts.
Einstök Icelandic Doppelbock
A clean and malty Icelandic bock with a rich and sweet cara malt toffee / caramel character. Frothy carbonation, medium-full body, bready, a little doughy, soft and savory with a peppery finish. Clean and flavorful, though not a very exciting or expressive beer. Much better than the two American-made bocks tried against.
Ölvisholt Fósturlandsins Freyja
4.5% Wheat Ale
4.5% Wheat Ale
Bottle. Hazy weizen appearance with a thin head. Mild coriander spice and fruit peel with light phenols. Sweet, a bit tart with a light body, low bitterness and a growing chamomile tea character. Mildly salivating acidity. Quite good with no noticeable flaws and all of the components seem well-expressed and well-matched.
Viking Íslenskur Úrvals Stout
Bottle dated October 2013. Dark brown body is more like a brown porter or brown ale than a stout. Roasted barley, dark chocolate and starchy malt-forward aroma with notes of fish scales and accents of black patent char that show through when it opens a bit. Medium-light body, nicely dry, some starch / husk character but it’s minor. Not coffee like but certainly focusing on roasted barley. Not complex or layered but well-executed and respectable and definitely drinkable in quantity if I’m in the right mood.
Black Death Beer
5.8% Baltic Porter
5.8% Baltic Porter
Botte. Chocolate / roast-focused nose with light yeast powder, minerals and lactose notes. Low sweetness, medium bitterness, low acidity. Creamy, smooth and soft body. Medium body, decently toasty, lots of cocoa powder character, some mild char but no roast astringency. Mild flavored, a bit basic, but nothing terrible going on and nothing exciting either.
Borg Snorri Nr. 10
Bottle. Lightly hazed gold with a short white head. Lemon balm, lemongrass, wheat, coriander / soap and potpourri aroma (I think it’s actually angelica, but I don’t have experience with angelica) . Medium body, a bit thin in the back, and had a strange oily mouthfeel, but to it’s credit it is very expressive and zesty, just overspiced for me.
Bruggsmidjan Kaldi Dökkur
Bottle. Clear chestnut brown. Stale dark crackers and bread aroma with a small bit dry dog food. No hop aroma. Light body. Toaster bread crumb malt. Wet dog hair and mineral water. Metal flakes and red apple skins. Low sweetness, low bitterness, fizzy carbonation.
BJCP-certified beer judge, photographer, and software developer from Boulder, Colorado. I use this site to chronicle my worldwide beer adventures shared through photography and stories, with a focus on traditional old world brewing practices.