Just a few years ago, Iceland’s beer taps were dominated by a handful of basic, strong, fizzy lagers such as Víking, Gull, Polar Beer, and the odd Danish or Eastern European import. But recent years have seen the rapid emergence of a thriving craft beer scene. Unquestionably the most popular of the new crop is Einstök (“one of a kind,” loosely translated)—an American-owned brand, brewed in Akureryi. Today, their beers are omnipresent in Icelandic bars, whether it’s the light and citrusy White Ale, the full-bodied and flavoursome Pale Ale, the Arctic Berry ale, or the recently released “Wee Heavy” Scotch Ale.
Jack Sichterman is one half of the duo behind Einstök, along with CEO David Altshuler. “We’ve worked together for twenty-five years,” says Jack, “and we started asking: with this amazing water, Viking heritage and beautiful people… how come nobody is exporting or brewing good beer in this country, from a craft beer perspective? One thing led to another, we raised the money and found a great brewmaster. Six years later, we’re in twenty-two countries and fifteen US states, and we’re the number one craft beer in Iceland. It’s been an amazing ride, and here we are.”
Fortune favours the brave
The two started the company in 2010, with fortuitous timing. “We got here at the perfect juncture of craft beer and Iceland taking off,” says Jack. “It was pure luck, and has nothing to do with business sense and creativity. We just arrived at the right time. And it’s going great. We’re winning awards all over the world and figuring out ways to ship beer around the world.”
Despite the international attention, Iceland remains important to Einstök. “It’s our most important market from an authenticity standpoint,” Jack explains. “But we never thought it would be such an important market from a revenue standpoint. Tourism has a lot to do with that, but we’re grateful to have been embraced by Icelanders as well.”
The recognition is well-earned. Einstök’s recipes are clearly pored over, and it turns out they go through lots of experimentation before going to production. “That method defines our whole approach to brewing,” says Jack. “A lot of craft brewers started in a garage and went from there, saying: ‘This one’s pretty good, let’s sell it.’ We’ve always said, if we’re gonna go all the way to iceland and brew beer, it doesn’t make sense unless we try to brew the best beer of every style we choose. The White Ale—that’s now our best-seller—went through ten versions before we got what we wanted, and it took us eighteen months to develop the Wee Heavy.”
Smite the world
Einstök’s quick progress may have made it look it easy, but Jack says they had to fight their way into the craft beer market. “There was a two-brewery system here that we didn’t fit into,” he says, “but now when you walk down the street you’ll find us practically everywhere. It’s surreal, honestly. I’m speechless. It’s a dream.”
With Einstök’s first container shipping to China this year, the potential for growth is still only beginning. “That’s scary too,” says Jack. “It’s like indie band syndrome, where we have awesome fans who are coming to see us in small clubs. But one day maybe we’ll be playing a stadium, and they’ll be like, ‘Fuck them! I remember when I saw them in Húrra!’ So we have to stay true to our fans. But it’s not like we’re going to go pop and start producing shitty lager. We’re looking forward to growing—it’s going to mean investing in this country, and that’s pretty cool.”
Also Read: Master At Work — Meet The Einstök Brewmaster.
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