Although I was exhausted when I arrived in Iceland on a Saturday morning, I set out to enjoy the nightlife that Reykjavik had to offer. And since I didn’t think I thoroughly enjoyed the nightlife that night, I spent almost every other night out at the bars as well.
I knew very little about Icelandic beer before I arrived (I had read that an average beer is about $7 at a bar). I knew that it was illegal until 1989, but I had no idea what the brewing culture was like. Turns out, Iceland has made up for lost time by brewing some world-class beers. My first beer was just after a great dinner that include smoked puffin — the bar only had a few people and I spent my time talking with the bartender. I was told to head over to Micro Bar on Vallarstraeti for some quality beer. I got a little lost, but managed to find the bar without really looking.
Finding the craft beer bar
Micro is a small, bright bar attached to the lobby of a hotel. It opened in June 2012 and serves a new local microbrew as well as some high-quality imports like Mikkeller. The bartenders were friendly and recommended a few really good beers. I started out with Gæðingur IPA, which had some very sharp hops — similar to the hops found in some New Zealand beer. I also had the Lava smoked imperial stout (which I recently found here in New Jersey). This was a smooth, slightly sweet and smoky stout–like a mix of smoked fish and chocolate (I swear it’s better than that sounds) — that comes in at 9.4% abv.
At Dillon on Laugavegur, I tried Black Death. I was a little worried about the name, but the bartender reassured me even though he couldn’t describe what type of beer it was. It was good but didn’t live up to its name. It’s a smooth porter, but not as strong a beer as one might expect from the name.
The Big Lebowski in Iceland
One bar that my friends would appreciate is Lebowski Bar (also on Laugavegur). And yes, it was named after The Big Lebowski. There’s a bowling lane mounted on the wall, and plenty of other movie-related elements incorporated into the bar, including a white Russian menu (“There’s a beverage here, man”).
I tried the Borg Doppelbok, which was a little sweet with a deep wheat aroma, but did not have an overpowering wheat taste — definitely worth a try. The bartender at Lebowski was kind enough to offer me tastes of some liquor as well–I think he felt bad after a drunk local bought me a shot of Opal and quickly left; it tasted like menthol cough syrup and ruined the flavor of my beer. Christmas Brennevin smelled like strawberry Twizzlers, but had a flavor that I just couldn’t identify; Reyka Vodka is one of the smoothest vodkas I’ve had, with a whiskey-like burn rather than a typical vodka bite (and it is available in the US).
There were plenty of other beers and bars in Reykjavik, but I didn’t write them all down — not all were worth writing about anyway. The bar scene was a lot of fun and worth the expensive drinks. Icelanders seem a bit more talkative after a few drinks as well. I certainly would’ve enjoyed an extra weekend out.