We were heading to Iceland for a few days and other than watching Rick Stein’s Weekend breaks we weren’t sure what to expect from either Iceland or its cuisine. Iceland has been top of our list of places to visit for years so we couldn’t wait to get there.
Leaving our planning to the last minute, we contacted Your Perfect Day in Iceland to check out any recommended tours that would combine food, landscape and culture. The weather in Iceland in November can make things difficult to plan so Your Perfect Days’ local knowledge and experience turned out to be invaluable.
Iceland has a relatively young and thriving food and drink scene and Reykjavik Sightseeing has created a tour called Cheers to Iceland to give you an introduction. The tasting session is held most evenings at 6 pm at Bryggjan Brugghús brewery and bistro down in the trendy old harbour district.
Twenty rugged up tourists gathered in the cosy and welcoming bar area before being shown through to a private dining room with three communal tables. Our host, Candy, welcomed the international crowd and explained the format of the evening.
We would be tasting six of their beers matched with a selection of Icelandic tapas dishes. Beer in Iceland was banned until 1989 so unlike Scotland, Iceland doesn’t have that many craft breweries yet, but they are catching up fast.
Our first three tastings
The first pairing was their “LAGER” served with Icelandic smoked salmon in a dill and mustard dressing, potato salad and crunchy capers. The lager, made from New Zealand hops and Icelandic water was clean and crisp and the ideal accompaniment to the salmon.
The second combination was “AIR” which is a full-bodied breakfast beer. It’s a session ale with an alcohol level below 5% and notes of grapefruit and pine are the ideal companion to the wee soft shell shrimps and citrus pepper mayonnaise.
Icelandic mussels were next on the tasting menu, and they had been cooked in LAGER – the first beer that we tried. This was a new experience and something that we will try with some of Scotland’s craft beer when we get home. The mussels were served with a robust American style pale ale that was smooth and very easy to drink.
The communal experience is a great way to meet fellow travellers and share Icelandic tips and tales. Candy was also on hand to answer any questions and advise on the best places to eat and drink in Iceland. It turns out that nowhere in Iceland is cheap – the scale slides from expensive to very expensive, but Candy and other travellers will keep you right with some great recommendations.
And the next three….
Our fourth tapas dish was smoked wild goose served with goats cheese (another recent Icelandic foodie addition). This was served with their SPICED pumpkin ale which was created for Halloween but is so popular that it’s now a regular. The beer is pumpkin infused with cloves, cinnamon, allspice and charred lemongrass adding flavour to this red ale. The lemongrass takes the edge off the spice and brightens the beer flavour which worked perfectly with the walnut, apple and raspberry vinaigrette in the dish.
Next, we were in for a real treat – Icelandic Lamb. Icelanders let their lambs roam free over the summer months and they have a massive festival in the Autumn to gather them all in. Bryggjan Brugghús serve lamb from the Reykjavik areas which has a more herbal flavour compared to lambs grazing further afield that eat berries and have a sweeter taste. A full blown IPA was served with this dish and its big flavour, citrus tastes and clean, crisp profile cut through the creamy bearnaise sauce.
The finale of our Cheers to Iceland tasting was a Belgian Dubbel which is their Christmas creation. This beer has an intense biscuit flavour but isn’t overly sweet. Served with their in-house stout ice cream, the dark chocolate and roasted coffee notes were the ideal accompaniment.
The two hours passed in a flash and many new foodie friendships were made. There was no rush to move on so many of our fellow diners stayed on to sample more beers and try other dishes from the menu. We were staying just along the road at the Icelandair Marina Hotel, so hat, scarf and gloves on we slid our way across the icy harbour pavements after a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to Iceland’s food and beer scene.
If you are visiting Reykjavik, this evening is the perfect start to your holiday – it’s a great way to try lots of different Icelandic dishes and meet other fellow travellers.
Many thanks for our very kind invitation to join you to experience Cheers to Iceland.
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Look out for our next Iceland Blog coming soon! Our Tour of the Golden Circle with Grayline Iceland