Are you wondering what alcohol in Iceland you should try? These are 10 of my favorite Iceland drinks, including beers, liquors, and cocktails. Plus, learn a little more about Iceland’s illicit relationship with beer.
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The Land Of Fire and [Dry] Ice: Icelandic Prohibition
Did you know that Iceland had a rather long and modern Prohibition period? No drinking in Iceland for you, TUL. From 1915-1989, boozy bloggers could hardly find a drink in the land of fire and ice. Seen as a progressive move with support from women–who still technically could not vote–Iceland banned the booze. I’d probably become an illegal homebrewer, too. Add in some suspenders, fishnets, and pageboy hat: These are my Prohibition fantasies.
I honestly cannot believe how long the Icelandic ban on beer lasted. March 1st, 1989 is Bjordagur, “Beer Day,” when Icelanders could enjoy their first legal cold brew. To be fair, Iceland legalized wine in 1922, and by 1935, everything but beer and beverages with less than 2.25% alcoholic could be kicked back publicly.
Why the dry? Politically, beer drinking in Iceland had a Danish association, and as we know, Iceland fought hard to become an independent republic by 1944. Personally, I don’t think the 1918 date counts. Go ahead historians, troll me. I know, it is hard to imagine being deemed non-patriotic by drinking beer when today in the U.S. we have far worst symbols appearing…
Alcohol in Iceland Today
With all of this tipsy history, when we headed to Iceland, I was ready to enjoy ALL the bevies. We found craft breweries in Reykjavík and Vík, did not tour but enjoyed whiskeys and liquors from local distilleries, and of course, tried a few craft cocktails.
These are a few of my favorite alcoholic beverages in Iceland. Some you cannot miss while others are just personal preference. Plus, you need something to warm up your soul on those chilly glacier-filled days. Let our history and booze-filled Icelandic tour begin.
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Alcohol In Iceland: Iceland Drinks You Must Try
Iceland’s signature distilled beverage is Brennivín, clear schnapps. Honestly more fun, this bad boy is better known as “Black Death.” I picture people drinking too much, turning black, and croaking–kind of like the Black Plague. This is SO wrong, on so many levels.
More accurate, black labels covered ugly green bottles to allegedly deter boozers. People also drank a lot of Brennivín and blacked out…I’m not that far off in my thinking.
Brennivín is an Aquavit or Akvavit and definitely rocked it during the Icelandic beer ban. Cheap and accessible, this licorice tasting substance gained fame.
Get ready for a boozy etymology lesson, too:
While Brennivín differs from Vodka, being a flavored spirit, it is pretty similar. Brennivín loosely translates to “burning wine,” whereas vodka comes from the Slavic word “voda,” meaning water. Add voda to aquavit, and we have the “water of life,” or aqua vitae. My kind of language. Brennivín is produced over an open flame, hence its more charred name.
Although I mostly discovered Sambuca-like flavors, Brennivín is said to have notes of cumin, caraway, and dill. My palate just isn’t that refined.
Why are we so fascinated with the Vikings? Because they drank ale and mead, of course! There is a historical debate about when the Norsemen started consuming the good stuff.
We found Víking beer listed on almost every bar and restaurant menu in Iceland. I felt like I was looking at Bud or some other cheap American beer. I remember reading a few reviews that agreed this beer isn’t mind-blowing. For the longest time, I stayed away. Cheap, crappy beer should be a sin.
However, Víking beer is just a classic Icelandic drink that you cannot skip. An old school lager, Víking Gylltur is actually pretty smooth and not as watery as you’d think. I wouldn’t go crazy ordering more than one, but when in Iceland…
Víking is brewed in Akureyri, Iceland
I love a drink that burns like the ice on your feet at the Blue Lagoon. My recommendation? Flóki Single Malt Whiskey.
Founded in 2009, Flóki produces whiskey, premium gin, and of course the Icelandic liquor specialty, Brennivín. Unfortunately, we did not have time to tour the Eimverk Distillery, which is home to Iceland’s first whiskey. I blame the snow and that damn Golden Circle.
You can book a tour online, though (and tell me all about it). The distillery is only about 20-25 minutes outside of the downtown Reykjavík. Check out more about Flóki Whiskey.
One of the 52+ Beers from Borg Brugghús
I cannot list just one beer, but like the popular Einstök beer, Borg Brugghús has quite the beer monopoly. I desperately searched out a visit and a taproom, but as of 2019, neither exists. Damn it!
Borg beers, like Víking, exist all over Iceland. You cannot go wrong with sampling them throughout your Icelandic vacation.
My Iceland Borg beer of choice: the Nordic Saison. After a few, I’m sure that you, too, can channel your inner Viking.
My favorite tidbit of knowledge here is that one of the brewers, Árnason, likes to ferment everything: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha to name a few. A man after my own heart.
See the full list of Borg Brugghús beers.
When I say Birkir, I mean the Icelandic snaps and not the soccer [American soccer] player. I still don’t quite understand the difference between schnapps and snaps beside the more Sweedish origin. If you know, please tell me.
Side Note: Birkir Bjarnason is an Icelandic professional ‘football’ player for the Iceland national football team. I could make some sexist gross comment about how he looks delicious too, but that’s just not my jam. Cough, Cough.
Known for using natural ingredients, the Foss Distillery produces Birkir. Hoping to capture nature in a bottle, this Iceland drink is pretty damn poetic.
Best worded on the Foss Distillery website, “Our aim with Björk and Birkir is to capture the experience of a spring night in Iceland, the moment when, after [the] rain has cleared, the dew settles on the leaves of the birch trees on a wooded hillside.”
I think the Foss Distillery might be the new Walt Whitman of booze. I think I might be in love.
With that said, Birkir is infused with Icelandic birch, tasting a bit deliciously woody. I am not a poet.
64° Reykjavík Distillery’s Blueberry Liqueur
Imagine sipping on sweet Icelandic blueberries after dinner. On Valentine’s Day, we have to honor those that we love.
If you are a sweet port drinker, this one is for you.
Established in 2009, the Reykjavík Distillery offers a unique story similar to the hidden people you can read about in Sarah Moss’ Names for the Sea. A local Elf, Benedikt, on an edict from his King, presented distilling methods to the institution. These secrets included: small batch distillation, the art of using locally produced products, and natural infusion.
That’s one smart little elf, and personally, I love the hidden people and elfish traditions and beliefs carried across the Icelandic landscape. I hope that drinking more of this sweet Icelandic alcoholic beverage puts me on the elf ‘A’ list. There is only one way to find out.
Read more about the Reykjavík Distillery.
An Eclectic Brew From RVK Brewing Company
Once again, I cannot pick just one brew, but I loved RVK Brewing in downtown Reykjavík. While we walked from our hotel, you can also drive over to enjoy.
Founded by a former NYC finance guru, RVK offers a selection of great beers ranging from white and sour to dark and barrel infused. The taproom is open for pints and flights, and you can also email for a tour.
Imagine sipping local Icelandic beers while watching the snow drift down from the sky as you await your fresh fish dinner reservations. Ensconced in a small faux DJ station in one corner and tanks for brewing in another, I could have relaxed here all afternoon.
Find out more about RVK Brewing Company.
Any Free Beverage With Your Blue Lagoon Visit
With all of this boozy history, let’s not forget an alcoholic drink with a splash of warm water. Don’t forget to pick up your free drink at the Blue Lagoon Spa.
We arrived at the Blue Lagoon at 8 AM in the morning, which might be a little early to drink, even for us. We floated around for awhile debating when it was socially acceptable to grab our free bevie. The Blue Lagoon offers beer and wine selections plus smoothies and juice.
Notably, we also couldn’t find the bar in the dark. Commence panic mode.
Much bigger than expected, the Blue Lagoon pool has pockets of tucked away areas. Face masks are easy to find. The bar took a second. I’m not going to lie: the minute we saw others with drinks, we went on the hunt for ours.
The bar is to the right once you slide into the toasty waters.
Mimosas are not on the menu, but somehow I scored one anyway. I looked sad, thirsty, and tired. Coming straight from a red-eye flight with no sleep, this little drink powered me up…for a nap.
A Brew With Your Burger at Smiðjan Brugghús
We only had time for one more brewery visit in Iceland, and thank gosh, Vík offered us an amazing option.
By far, Vík saturated my heart and became my favorite southern Iceland town–and not just because it has a brewery. Vík is perfect for Northern Light viewings and a great rest stop along Ring Road to see the glaciers. You can check out our 7-Day Iceland Itinerary to make sure you don’t miss the Smiðjan Brugghús.
If you are looking for delicious burgers and a huge selection of beer, Smiðjan is the place to be. Not only do they produce their own draft beers, but they also showcase a large variety of Icelandic brews.
My husband, who has Celiacs, also found a delicious rhubarb cider here–claimed to be the only one produced in Iceland.
Brand new as of 2018, read more about the Smiðjan Brugghús.
Mori Red Ale from Ölvisholt Brugghús
The last one of my list, I loved this Mori Red Ale from Ölvisholt Brugghús. Located in Selfoss, we sadly did not make it to the brewery itself.
The tap room is in a former cowshed; I’m feeling pretty bummed that we missed out since we got married in a barn. I’m not going to lie: the snow and ice made us wimp out, and we instead settled on a tavern lunch in Selfoss. I have so many regrets here.
Opened in 2007, this microbrewery is located at an old dairy farm close to the magnificence of southern Ring Road. Although we missed the actual brewery, I sampled their beers next to Skógafoss in Skógar.
I’m not going to lie. This brew tasted even better watching the falls and birds from a toasty tourist pitstop. I am a sellout.
Check out the full details of Ölvisholt Brugghús.
There is always this option at the penis museum…
No, not really…silly…you can’t drink this, but you sure can stare at this exhibition at the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Hashtag winning.
The Icelandic Drinking Tour Conclusion
I truly believe that alcohol in Iceland like elsewhere is ingrained into a country’s identity and history. Alcohol is important. Like food and Anthony Bourdain, we understand a culture and place over food and drinks. From elves and natural elements to passion and just good conversation, Iceland infuses heritage and nature into their booze.
To me, Iceland drinks combine Mother Nature into fiery beverages meant to warm the soul. Maybe this is the true meaning of the fire and ice designation. Plus, the country had such a divisive relationship with alcohol, I’m more than intrigued. Today, Icelanders are still known for drinking less than their European counterparts.
In many ways, this is how I choose to study and greet Iceland.