As anyone who frequents Reykjavík’s downtown bar scene will have noticed, Icelandic drinking culture has been undergoing a facelift. Over the past few years, the range of beers on the average bar’s taps has gone from a handful of simple, similar lagers to a wider variety of brews, both Icelandic and imported. And along with the emergence of Iceland-brewed craft brands has come a crop of bars that cater to the evolving tastes of the city’s drinkers.
The best of the bunch, and the winner of our “Best Newcomer Bar” award, is the recently opened Mikkeller & Friends, run by the same trusty crew that brought us Kex and the “pizza place with no name” at Hverfisgata 12, within which the bar is housed. Selling small-batch beers made by the much-admired independent Danish breweries Mikkeller and To Øl, and a handful of guests, Mikkeller & Friends has twenty taps that offer an ever-changing range of new tastes.
“My personal favourites are the really sour ones,” says Ólafur Ágústsson, one of the figures behind the bar, as he sips a mid-afternoon beer. “But I also like the really delicate IPAs. They’re full of flavour and body and volume, but they’re so delicate and nice.”
Reykjavík has welcomed the new bar with open arms. Their launch night saw a queue down the stairs and out onto Hverfisgata, and the bar is full to bursting most nights of the week. “The response has been enormous,” smiles Ólafur. “It’s crazy! People really love this. Being able to go out and try several beers with very different tastes is entertaining for people I think. It’s something new.”
Some of the stronger beers—up to a literally dizzying 17% ABV—come at eye-watering prices of up to 2,000 ISK, which Ólafur explains has a lot to do with Iceland’s import regulations. “When you bring in a beer over 12% ABV you pay an awful lot in tax,” he says. “But the drinks we have on taps one to ten are competitively priced. People pay as much for our Hverfisgata Pils as they’d pay for a pint of Gull next-door.”
Mikkeller & Friends serves their beer in measures 20% smaller than the standard—a small beer is served in a Mikkeller-branded wineglass-style vessel, which is a more continental system that Ólafur says allows drinkers to savour the complex favours of the beer, rather than knocking it back.
He hopes that this more refined method of drinking will catch on. “The smaller measures mean people can try out more tastes,” he says. “One of my hopes is that we’re bringing new aspects to the Icelandic drinking culture. I think we can ‘drink better’—that is, starting earlier in the day, and stopping earlier in the night—the European way. With all the craft places opening up now, I think we’re getting there.”
Mikkeller & Friends won Best Newcomer Bar
Read the full list of Best Of winners here.