This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Country #12: Iceland

Beer: Icelandic White Ale

Brewery: Einstöck Beer Company, Akureyri, Iceland


ABV: 5.2%


Einstöck means 'unique' in Icelandic. No amount of googling would reveal what olgerð means. Does it just mean "brewery"? Anyone?


Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest metropolitan area, housing a whopping 18,000 residents (about the same population as Elko, Nevada). It lies a mere 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle, which means that, in the depths of the winter, the sun DOES rise every day, but on the winter solstice it gets less than one degree above the horizon. Given Akureyri’s location at the butt-end of a steep-walled fjord, there are likely a few days when its residents only get an illuminated reflection off the clouds above. These bleak conditions surely demand heavy drinking in the winter. And, in midsummer, when the sun sets for about ten minutes every night, a drink or seven might be necessary for Icelanders to help fall asleep.


Good: they've included their latitude and longitude on the label! Bad: That exact set of coordinates is right in the middle of Iceland, not in Akureyri. Okay: So saying N 65° 40' 55.7'', W 18° 6' 24.6'' would probably get awkward and confusing for most.

So, it would make sense that Akureyri might have a brewery, despite its small size and remote location. But it hasn’t always been this way: insular Iceland banned alcohol altogether until 1935, and beer for even longer, until, astonishingly, 1989. Today, alcohol is incredibly expensive, both at retail and bar prices, and can only be purchased for at-home consumption from state-run liquor stores. For example, a single 330 mL bottle of Einstöck White Ale sells for almost $3 in Iceland, four years AFTER the country’s economy collapsed; the stuff I got cost half that in California, despite being shipped about 5,000 miles. 


Winter in Akureyri, probably at about 11 a.m. According to these guys, from whom I got the picture, "The sun gets higher in the sky with every day." That's great! You, and everywhere else in the northern hemisphere!

And does this stop anyone in Iceland from tippling? Not in the slightest, as Reykjavikers in particular are notorious for drinking at home until midnight, going to the bar, and then slamming ‘em back until closing time. Imagine what the place would be like without those regulations?

The cap is not suggesting that you open the beer with an axe. Although if you have one and want to give it a shot, that'd be okay by me.

Like a lot of other Nordic breweries, Einstöck eschews traditional Nordic beer, which most of us wouldn’t recognize as beer at all, since it’s brewed without hops, which doesn’t grow well at high latitudes. Instead, they simply make beer in the styles popular with craft beer drinkers, regardless of the style's provenance. The White Ale I had  spoke more of Belgium than of Iceland, and was very good but not great. I’d compare it to something like a Hoegaarden rather than any of the amazing Trappist beers. But, lest we forget where it was made, we have the Viking on the bottle to remind us.

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