Kex Hostel’s cosy, low-lit bar entertained a slightly different crowd than usual for four days in February. There were more beards in the room, for a start; and those beards perhaps a bit bushier and less kempt. There was a certain loucheness amongst the buzzing, almost uniformly male throng, with their slicked-down hair, rosy cheeks, stocky builds and jauntily angled flat caps. And they weren’t just knocking their beer back, but daintily sniffing it, and holding up their undersized glasses to check out the beer’s colour.
The occasion was the (sold-out) Icelandic Beer Festival, an annual event organised by Kexland, at which overseas and Icelandic craft brewers plied their wares to a happy group of beer enthusiasts. The brewers poured their ales for the assembled drinkers—at no cost other than the 4,000 ISK festival wristband—all the while chatting about ingredients, flavours and brewing techniques.
Amongst the throng, we grabbed a few interesting-looking characters for a chat. Sam, who came with the Portland, Oregon-based Commons Brewery, was taking a break from the pumps to enjoy a light IPA. “We do Belgian and French-style ales, and German lagers,” he said. “We kinda focus on Northwest ingredients. We mostly sell in the US but a little goes to British Columbia. Our flagship beer is urban farmhouse ale—a simple, refreshing, mostly pilsner malt and rye, and yeast-driven. We haven’t met the other brewers yet, but I’m looking forward to meeting them.”
The brewers were set up around Kex Hostel’s spacious Sæmundur pub and restaurant, with some pouring their beers behind the central bar, and others from barrels propped under trestle tables around the room. The longest queue was for the Danish brewery Mikkeller, who opened a craft bar on Hverfisgata in 2015. Their Acid Drop sour ale was aged in wine barrels, giving it a distinctive and eye-opening flavour strong enough to give this writer goosebumps. Ordinary beer, this is not.
“I’ve been coming to the beer festival since it started,” said Gunnar Ingi, an attendee determined to try everything on offer. “The Funk Orchard from Alefarm in Copenhagen was really good, and the Myrtle from Commons Brewery was too. But I like the sour ales best. I enjoyed the red wine barrel-aged Acid Trip. I’m hoping they’ll put on the white wine barrel-aged version tonight, but I’m not sure they’ll make it.”
Plans for the festival started almost a year ago. “We started organising it right after the festival last year was over,” says Óli Gústi, one of the Kexland organisers. “Then in October we started to think about importing the beers. And really, we just finished setting everything up today. So it’s been a long haul. We have breweries from Iceland, Denmark, and the US. We want to bring in the beers we think are most exciting. We want to get these great beers to the people here in Reykjavík and let them try something new. And to encourage people to improve their drinking—to drink less, but better.”
With twelve breweries, each pouring several different ales across the course of the festival, it could become difficult to keep track. We spotted Kristine Stevens Beeco and her husband Gene carrying around a notebook, scribbling down the names of everything they tried, so as not to miss out.
“I’m actually here researching a book,” said Kristine, who was a particular fan of Einstök’s pale and white ales. “Gene has a brewery called Moon River Brewing Company in Savannah, Georgia. I’m gonna be here for a few months so he came with me for the first couple of weeks. We didn’t actually know it was going on until we got here, so the timing was perfect. How could we not come to a beer festival?”
The closing party took place in the empty gallery space beneath Kex. After four days of revelry, the festival crowd had become familiar to each other, creating a raucous and comradely atmosphere. All of the different brewers brought out something special, bringing the hubbub up to a crescendo, and as the last kegs were emptied, this new fellowship of beer festival friends poured out onto an icy Skúlagata, warmed both by the beer, and the welcoming culture of those who make it.
We’re Making A Beer For You!
On March 1st, it was 27 years since Iceland’s beer prohibition ended. To mark the occasion, we’ve teamed up with Bryggjan Brugghús to brew our own batch called Litli Grís (“Little Pig”). The process took a good eight hours, and will yield some 900 litres of double IPA beer. You can expect this hoppy and dry beer to be around 8.8% ABV and hit alcohol stores by the end of the month. Ideally, though, you should come to Bryggjan, where it will be on offer—join us there in celebration on April 1 where we’ll be selling it at cost price (no, really)!