Outside of Reykjavik, Iceland is sparsely populated with individual farmsteads and small communities dotted across a rural landscape. Farming and fishing are still key industries but the last decade has seen huge growth in software, biotechnology, finance and service industries and a significant increase in tourism.
Sauðárkrókur – Hólar – Akureyri
After an inland detour to visit Hólar, we took the coastal route around to Akureyri (and on to Myvatn) via a stop at the Bruggsmiðjan Brewery.
Having set off early in the morning, we approached Hólar – nestled within the Hjaltadalur valley – in the golden morning sun. First to come into view was the tall tower of Hólar Church, with the red and white block of Hólar University College behind it.
The church and college were beautiful but what had drawn us to Hólar was the Nýibær turf house, next to the college building. Built in 1860, it is a typical medium-sized turf house in the North-Icelandic style, distinguished by forward-facing gables along the front and rear buildings arranged at right angles.
The coastal roads offered stunning views, though occasionally a little hair-raising for those of us that are scared of heights!
Our visit to the Bruggsmiðjan Brewery was organised in advance, but they do their best to welcome drop-in visitors too.
The brewery is only a decade old, established in 2005 by local couple Agnes Anna and Olafur Trostur, who were keen to forge a new business in the local area. Both their sons are now working in the business, and one of them related the brewery’s story and showed us round, offering tastings of several of the beers currently in production. We were joined by a few others who arrived during our visit.
Agnes and Olafur had never brewed beer before, but were inspired by a TV news report they happened to watch, talking about the rising popularity of small breweries in Denmark. Just one week later, they visited Denmark to visit a few small breweries and came home determined to achieve something similar in Iceland.
We were surprised to learn that beer had been prohibited in Iceland until 1989! In 1908 Icelanders voted in a ban on all alcoholic drinks, which went into effect in 1915. However, the ban was partially lifted in 1921 when Spain refused to allow the import of Icelandic fish unless Iceland legalised the import into Iceland of Spanish wine. In 1935, spirits were also legalised after another national referendum. However, the temperance lobby successfully argued to retain the prohibition on beer (which covered any beer stronger than 2.25%). Icelanders regularly raised bills calling for the legalisation of beer. They finally gained more momentum after a new rule was imposed by a teetotaller Minister of Justice in 1985, banning pubs from adding legal spirits to non-alcoholic beer to create an imitation strong beer. Parliament finally voted to end beer prohibition and the ban was lifted on 1 March 1989, a date still celebrated as “Beer Day”.
Bruggsmiðjan’s Kaldi brand includes pale and dark Czech-style beers, summer and winter seasonal beers plus limited editions such as a beer featuring local herbs as flavouring. All the beers are made with natural fresh water from the immediate area and the core range are available in bars and shops all round Iceland.
See my other Iceland postcards.