The Beers of Iceland…and Denmark

Whenever I travel, I like to check out the local beers (and liquors)–whether it be a new country or just a new city. Additionally, I like to try imported beers from neighboring-ish countries, apparently. In my zeal to grab a variety of Icelandic beers (you can buy them individually, I don’t drink that much), I also grabbed a variety of Danish beers (thanks to Monica for catching that!).

Occasionally, there are regional favorites that make their way across the country or globe, and sometimes they’re exclusively local treasures (or stinkers, case depending). While I tend to prefer a darker, heavier beer, I’ve rarely met a beer I didn’t like just a little. In my travels so far, I’ve found that most traditional European beers tend to be pilsners or lighter ales. Only the Scotch and Irish seem to share my predilection for dark beer. Iceland (and Denmark) seems no exception.

What’s interesting–and extremely exasperating about Iceland–is that its beer (and all alcohol) is (a) very expensive, and (b) is only available from government-run alcohol stores–vínbúðir–typically between the hours of 10am and 6pm (though lower alcohol versions of some beers are available at grocery stores). The price can be chalked up to sin tax (common to Norway and Denmark as well). The government regulation is more of a mystery. It seems a bit totalitarian, though allegedly over 60% of Icelanders are in favor of it. Despite this, it seems that binge drinking is fairly common on the weekends; folks drink at home until midnight and then go out to bars (in the summer, there’s full sun for 20 hours a day and it never gets darker than dusk).

I won’t take being able to grab a beer around the corner for granted anytime soon.

In any case, here’s the rundown:

Icelandic Beers

Thule

This is on par with the better canned pilsners I’ve had. Similar to the others, but slightly cleaner and sharper, like the Faxe (Danish). It doesn’t have that slightly cloying sweetness that most other Icelandic beers have. Thule, any northern Scandinavian island (i.e. Iceland or Greenland), but also a place beyond the borders of the known world–I don’t know that this beer is pushing any new boundaries, but it does eclipse the other Icelandic beers I’ve tried. It’s hard to say if this beer could wield Mjolnir, but I would wield it to drink.


Gull

There are a lot of sea gulls in Iceland. This innocuous beer is like the seagull–ubiquitous, nonthreatening, and unworthy of lengthy comment. Pretty much par for the Icelandic pilsner course.



Viking

This is the Icelandic MGD. It looks the same. It tastes the same. Thankfully, it doesn’t give me the same heartburn. This is a tad stronger than the others at a whopping 5.6% alcohol (this is monitored closely in Iceland, and determines price…I’d hate to think what my beloved Dirty Bastard would cost, coming in at 9% alcohol). Like MGD, this beer somehow compelled me to buy a 6-pack of it…would that I bought a sixer of Thule instead.



Danish Beers

Slots Pilsner

This tasted like a maltier version of PBR. But there were no century-old awards decorating the can, letting me know that I must be an asshole for finding it merely passable. If I had to choose between Slots and a punch in the face, I’d go with Slots any day. Actually, given the choice between Slots and nothing, I’d also choose Slots. Did choose, in fact. Truly, not a bad beer by any stretch, but at roughly $2/can from the store, I wasn’t impressed.



Thor

So this one really tasted like PBR–which was kind of nice after the Slots. No maltiness, no aftertaste, just regular old canned pilsner adequacy. Though with a name like Thor, I did it love slightly more than a friend. If Pabst were called Thor, I would never drink another beer.



Faxe

This was a slightly more bitter version of the others. Perhaps they used one additional hop. I would go as far to say, it wasn’t worth importing. What was the fossil fuel cost of bringing this boring beer over the ocean? We could probably ask this of many imports, worldwide.



Tuborg

More of the same. Every beer here is PBR, but hidden in different cans. Perhaps it’s the can that lends canned beer that not-so-delicious in-the-can taste? Would all this beer taste different in bottles? I don’t even think you can get most of this beer in bottles. Given this beer’s almost identical taste and inferior name, I’d choose Thor any day. Could this beer wield the mighty Mjolnir?



The Consensus

It’s Thule by a mile. Almost everything else was identical. There are a few bottled beers (one from the Faroe Islands) that I probably won’t get to sample, but as far as the standard canned beers go, this my official list. If you’re here for just a day and only sample a single beer, I hope this can be of some use.

5 comments ↓

#1 Monica on 06.04.10 at 1:15 am

I think both the top Pilsners and the Tuborg are also Danish actually…!

#2 Claire on 07.17.13 at 9:49 am

How are you sure these are all vegetarian/vegan?

#3 mark on 09.19.13 at 3:12 pm

Hi Claire, I’m sad to admit that I’m not sure. I tend to take an “innocent until proven guilty” stance on beers. Most beers are vegan. So there are some known offenders like Guiness that I avoid, and certain styles or regions that I regard with suspicion and do more research (British beers seem to be one of the worse offenders–they’re the ones more like to use isinglass). Pilsners are typically vegan-friendly, so I don’t usually worry about them.

In terms of finding out, check http://www.barnivore.com first. It’s pretty comprehensive and awesome. Barring that, contact the brewery and report back to barnivore. I’ve done this a few times with wineries (most wines aren’t vegan).

Tuborg (which Monica correctly points out is Danish) is vegan. None of the others are listed on barnivore.

Skál!

#4 Julian on 04.03.14 at 1:06 am

Hi,

I think the name “Gull” is an Icelandic word here : it means “gold”, which makes sense considering the colour of the can. I don’t think it has anything to do with seagulls here 🙂

Skál indeed,

Jul.

#5 Matt Thompson on 04.01.16 at 10:49 am

Thanks for the review! Heading to Iceland in a few weeks. I’ll keep an eye out for some Thule. I first ran into Faxe in Italy of all places and thought the same thing, “Why bring this all the way here, and at what cost?” Thanks again for the post!

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