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Archive for the ‘Iceland’ Category

30 years ago this summer, I attended a meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. I spent two days in endless discussions, and I did not get to see the sights. But there is one thing I remember clearly.

The local organisers insisted in us buying our duty-free quotas on arrival in Iceland. A duty-free shop in the arrival hall was a novelty in itself, but the point was not the hard liquor, but the beer quota. You could choose between two options: A full case, 24 bottles, of domestic lager or half the amount, 12 cans, of Heineken. Heineken was considered far more sophisticated.

The domestic sale of beer was banned. The full strength beer was only available at the airport – in the shops and bars a watered down low alcohol beer was the only option. The paradox was that wine and hard liquor was available.

Pressure to lift the ban built up during the Eighties, particularly when some bars started to call themselves pubs and served low alcohol beer spiked with vodka or aquavit.

On March 1 1989 the ban was lifted. Since then, the Icelandic beer day is celebrated on this date.

I have a suspicion this is just another excuse for binge drinking, the Reykjavik scene is certainly lively during the weekend.

But, over the years, the Icelandic beer scene has evolved, as I observed when I visited last year. The market for imports is, of course limited, and they are cursed blessed by state monopoly stores similar to the ones in Sweden, Finland and Norway. But there are a few craft breweries selling their beers at home and abroad, and their quality is nothing to be ashamed of. There is an excellent beer blogger. And there is even a beer festival going on this week. In a pub I cannot claim I have first hand knowledge of.

I won’t be at the Sæmundur í Sparifötunum this week. But as this is billed as an annual event, perhaps another year?

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Sure, there were nice beers and pubs this year as always. Three new European capitals covered, Reykjavik, Edinburgh and Lisbon.

Lisbon does not move up to the head of class, but Düsseldorf, Edinburgh, Göteborg, Paris, Rome, Oslo, Copenhagen or Brugge were not half bad.

But the most fascinating place was Íslenski barinn in Reykjavik. Local beer, local food. Good beer, good food. A menu based on truly exotic ingredients. Go before it becomes expensive again!

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If you want just one more beer after 3 små rum has closed, there is always the pub across the street.

They have some Icelandic beers which I’ve never seen outside Iceland, and I’m sure there is other stuff in the fridge, too.

On the other hand, it is probably wiser to go straight to bed.

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One place I had picked out before leaving for Iceland, with good help from Haukur, was Íslenski barinn or Icelandic Bar.

Though this opened last year, the theme is unashamed nostalgia. This is your grandparents home, ca. 1950. Assorted furniture, old photos and memorabilia. Souvenirs from the sailors of the family. If you’ve been to plan b in Copenhagen, you get the drift.

But, more inventive, is the menu. They may sell this as nostalgia as well, and some items, like plukkfiskur or fish stew, are recognizable from my own childhood. More interesting, however, are modern twists on what in Iceland are traditional ingredients, but what most of us feel are very exotic. Grilles mink whale,  smoked wild goose, cured puffin, horse meat in various forms.

Fish and lamb dishes, too, of course, but I’d save them for a return visit.

Combination plates gives you the opportunity to try various delicacies. There is also (not online) a comprehensive list of small dishes with proposals for food and beer pairings.

Everything at very decent prices, at least as long as the Icelandic kronur stay at their present low level.

Because beer is very important here. They are proud to offer all Icelandic beers, which adds up to about a dozen micro brews plus slightly more from the macros. Light and dark lagers, sure, but also ales, stouts, even imperial stouts. I had Lava, an imperial stout from Ölvisholt, plus Mori, a red ale from the same brewery. Both were very good. Would I have minded staying on for a few more?  The rest of the family, however, wanted to call it a day.

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The alcohol retail system in Iceland is quite similar to what you find in Sweden, Finland and Norway, with a state monopoly running the shops. Iceland and Sweden are the strictest, where what you would call everyday beers also have to be sold through these shops.

This is obviously a hassle for the Icelandic beer drinkers, though a casual observation of the Reykjavik street scene on a Saturday evening shows that the teenagers get enough of the cheapest canned drinks there as everywhere else.

For a foreigner on a whistle-stop tour, however, it means that there is one shop within one shopping mall that carries all Icelandic beers.

A bright and airy shop, very similar to Systembolaget stores. Maybe 25 Icelandic beers, half of them from micros,  plus imports from Denmark, Germany,, the Netherlands, Belgium.. – the usual suspects. The only exotic among the imports were six beers from the Faroe Islands.

A decent selection for a one time visitor, pretty thin if the alternatives are a few hours away by plane. Inexpensive as long as the Icelandic currency stays at its present level.

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There are many ways of finding rare beers when you travel. You can brows the shops, you can do a pub crawl, you can visit a brewery.

Or you can trade with a local beer hound.

Haukur is active on ratebeer as well as a beer blogger, so, naturally, I got in touch with him for a trade when I knew I was going to Iceland. It turned out he lives only a few minutes away from my hotel, so he came by to say hello.

He gave me four hard to find bottles of beer from the Ölvisholt brewery, which I managed to transport home without incidents. I look forward to enjoy them soon!

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Arrival in Iceland

A short family vacation in Iceland was planned long before the volcano started messing up European air space, and our tickets were booked at a time when planes tended to leave on schedule.

Our tickets were for Friday afternoon, but early in the morning I received a text message saying the flight was cancelled. To make a long story short, we were rescheduled the next day. Arriving at the gate we were informed that we did not have confirmed seats, but luckily this meant an upgrade to business class, meaning that we arrived in style and comfort.

The best way to transfer from the airport to Reykjavik is to stop for an hour or two at the Blue Lagoon, swimming in the leftover water from a geothermal power station. The air was chilly, but the water warm and comforting.

Our hotel room was waiting, with about 60 square meters for a family of four we were very comfortable. One word of advice, though. If you want undisturbed sleep, you should consider accommodation outside the city centre at weekends. The party scene is very lively, and they don’t go to bed until very late!

We were hungry, and my research led us to an upmarket fish and chips shop. The cod and plaice were perfectly cooked to order and the onion rings were crisp. The oven baked potatoes had been in the oven a bit too long, but it was a nice meal without any fuzz when we were all tired. No beer today, that would have to wait.

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