A Little History
The history of beer in Iceland is short and stout (pun intended). Up until 1989 you couldn’t buy beer in Iceland. Teenagers that decided to start drinking earlier then legally intended drank Finlandia vodka in Coca-Cola and fishermen and pilots who were able to import beer from abroad were the most popular hosts in town.
When the Icelandic parliament Althing legalized importation and sales of beer in 1989, small businesses started popping up in Reykjavík, that up until then were quite exotic to Icelanders. They were the cafés and pubs where people came together, to be seen, to see others and drink beer. Cafés had previously been frequented by eccentric artists and outsiders along with the occasional cosmopolitan and worldly student. Now they began offering foreign-sounding drinks such as Cappuccino and Espresso, rising to the occasion of becoming international public spaces. As a result people naturally stopped paying each other endless visits, something Icelanders have pretty much stopped doing completely without announcing themselves a week in advance or patiently awaiting an invitation, that also arrives a week in advance.
A Few of our Favorite Bars
It didn’t take the nation long to adjust to the changes and at the turn of the century the first microbrewery was opened at Árskógssandur in Eyjafjörður. At least 5 microbreweries are operational in Iceland today in addition to the large breweries that ambitiously manufacture a wide variety of beers. Pubs have also multiplied and many of them offer a great selection of all kinds of beers, from hop-rich lagers to sour beer, which the occasional odd bird enjoys, but is mainly on the menu to display the bar’s wide range of selection and as such is probably an accurate presentation. These bars include Mikkeler at Hverfisgata, Skúli Craft Bar in Aðalstræti and Bjórgarðurinn at Höfðatorg. Other bars emphasize the domestic microbreweries for which they are immensely popular. These include Kaldi, which mainly sells its namesake beer, brewed in the aforementioned microbrewery at Árskógssandur and Micro Bar which offers a great variety of Icelandic beers.
There are of course older bars around that haven’t been affected by recent beer trends but rightfully hold their place for their authentic ambience. One of our favorites among them is Kaffibarinn in Bergstaðastræti where many a great mind has danced the night away, a place where time has stood still since the bar’s days of glory in the mid-nineties. One of our favorite new bars these days is unpretentious Veðurbarinn in Klapparstígur, directly opposite Kaldi, with its simplistic and comfortable abode.
While old-school visits that involved secrets spilled over coffee in the kitchen and playing bridge in the lounge are certainly on the decline since beer was legalized people still love the company of other people. It is truly entertaining to see the crowd of people that gathers downtown after work during happy hour in good weather (that’s “not terrible weather” in international terms). One thing is for certain, you could’ve never fitted all of these people in your kitchen back in the day.