Downtown Reykjavík has, for years, been a largely chain-free environment. With the exceptions of an ill-fated Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, the single Hard Rock Café, a handful of KFCs and Subways, and a single suburban Taco Bell, most bars and restaurants in Iceland are locally owned and run. For visitors, this creates a refreshingly unfamiliar and local atmosphere that stands out from the monoculture of many European cities. However, many locals—quite understandably—welcome a taste of popular products that other countries have on tap.
And having good stuff on tap is Brewdog’s speciality. Part of an independently owned bar chain, Brewdog is a success story that began with two Scottish guys selling small batch beers from the back of a van. Today, it has grown into a thriving international empire that now has 43 locations, over 1000 employees and 70,000 shareholders via an investment scheme called “punk equity.”
The keg van
The Reykjavík iteration brings the casual, comfortable, craft-beer focussed vibe that Brewdog is known for, and adapts it to the Icelandic audience with some local flourishes. “There are some guidelines that come from the UK,” says bar manager Þórhallur Viðarsson (pictured above). “For example, the signs outside, the neon sign inside, and so forth—to get that Brewdog feeling.” The renovation as a whole was handled by local firm Grafit. “This is a new building, so it was a blank box when we got it, with no plumbing or anything. But I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Overlooking the low-lit booths, communal tables and sofa seating is a backlit menu board showing their current range. There’s a choice of ten or more Brewdog beers at any given time, from the hoppy Punk IPA to a creamy, chocolatey nitro-stout, and a rotating selection Icelandic craft brews, including some sours—the flavour of the month with local beer nerds. “We had a visit from the Beljandi brewery in the east today,” smiles Þórhallur. “They have a tap installed in the back of their van, so we could taste their beer. It was so good, I bought two kegs.”
Bar food par excellence
What sets the Reykjavík edition apart from other Brewdog pubs is its focus on food. There’s an extensive bar menu on offer, from spicy buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dip—available on an all-you-can-eat basis on Wednesdays—to crunchy cod croquettes with smoked ketchup, creamy buffalo cauliflower, sesame broccolini in a jalapeno teriyaki sauce, and delicious sticky ribs.
And that’s just the starters. There are several burgers options, such as the buffalo chicken burger with blue cheese and crispy baby gem lettuce, and a perfect, medium-rare dry-aged beef burger in a crunchy bun. The other mains are just as enticing: particularly, the on-point chicken and waffles with a thin, sweet waffle, an expertly poached egg, spicy deep-fried chicken, sliced avocado and chilli mayo. The quality was such that after our tasting session, we vowed to come back and try the duck, beets, mussels and steak mains another time.
With winter fast approaching, Reykvíkingar are going to be in need of some new cosy hangout spots with reliable comfort food and—of course—plenty of beer. With all those ingredients in place, Brewdog Reykjavík looks set to become a firm local favourite.