A new range of beers from an unlikely source...

There are some countries that you naturally associate with the world of brewing, and it has to be said, that there are some you do not!

Located only some 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, in surely one of the remotest places on the planet, is the Einstok Brewery at Akureyri in Iceland.

Whilst initially this may seem a strange location, commercially, to site a brewery these are the lands of Nordic mythology, rich in tales of Viking invasion and pillage heady on their intoxicating barley fermented 'aul' (which would later evolve through Danish, Swedish and Norwegian linguistics to emerge in English as 'ale' ).

It is perhaps this image of unruly debauchery ( which also, via excessive intoxication, brought another word 'berseark' to the English language) that an ambivalence toward ale grew within the country.

This would reach its zenith many centuries after Viking Helgi Magri ( the slim) Eyvindarson settled in Iceland in the 9th Century, but evidence of this emerging attitude are shown in 15th Century with a print depicting the dangers of excessive drunkenness!

Clearly the belief that ale ( or the uncontrolled human desire toward it ...) was proving to be a scourge on the community came to its peak in 1908 with a referendum too block beer sales. This took effect on the 1st January 1915 ( forbidding any beer over 2.25%alc/vol to be served to Icelanders). Prohibition had finally arrived, and the country would have to find an alternative (if improbable) pleasure in the form of  'Near Beer'. 

Curiously in 1933 prohibition was repealed on spirits - but not beer. Only in 1988 after 73 years was the law revoked, but, in a watered down fashion... Government omnipresence still existed - via price control, with today 'Real Beer' (as recognised by Icelanders as being in the region of 5%alc/vol or above) costing five to eight times more than its 'Near Beer' equivalent.


Thankfully, for UK consumers, the Einstok beers are not quite in that price range!



                                                      15th Century Icelandic print

Four beers are produced, (including a White Ale wheat beer) and all show heavy influence from the US craft brewing movement in terms of style, with brewer Baldur - Karason being trained at Heriot - Watt in America.

All are well made, with clean defined flavours that befits the given style, although the Toasted Porter at 6%alc/vol. was slightly one dimensional and tasted below strength.

The Pale Ale at 5.6%alc/vol. had blossoming US hop aromas bursting forth, was firm bodied, with marmalade, grated rind peel and zest on the palate.     

The Doppelbock  too with its chestnut tawny hue had an emphasis on smoothness of palate, but lacked a warming caramel edge and depth that would have made it more assertive and distinctive. Again, for 6.7% alc/vol. it drinks surprisingly light.  

The packaging of all four is attractive and simplistic, but sadly has repetitive information on the back labels, which is a wasted opportunity in offering more useful details on the contents within.

One further problem from a retailers perspective is that on the shelf the darker label colours chosen will give far less impact over other brands. As a group, they look stylish, but when battling it out collectively for attention with other brews this could prove significant in terms of consumer choice. 

Cynics may see these as novelty beers lacking any representation of Icelandic heritage (and they make no claim to such) tapping purely into the 'flavour moods' of today's consumer trends. But the beers overall are well made enough to stand up to such criticisms.

Somebody may well re-discover a recipe from the Viking brews of old - but I for one would say, please don't pass me the 'Near Beer' -  find me a drinking Horn!


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