European Business: What made a group of American entrepreneurs decide to go to Iceland, one of the coldest regions of the globe, to start a craft-beer brewery there almost a decade ago?
Gudjon Gudmundsson: Our crisp and clean Icelandic water is perfectly suited for brewing and was certainly the primary factor which drew their attention to Iceland. This along with the many ways in which our country is unique and the craftsmanship of the people here created the basic foundation of Einstök, which means “unique” or “one of a kind” in Icelandic.
European Business: Your brewery in Iceland is located just sixty miles south of the Arctic Circle. What are the logistical challenges in brewing beer in a region where no hops is growing?
Gudjon Gudmundsson: Even though we believe that Iceland is in the middle of everywhere, the argument can surely be made that, at least from a logistical perspective, northern Iceland is indeed in the middle of nowhere. Certainly, we have faced challenges, especially in the beginning, when all imports and exports to and from Iceland had to go through Reykjavik, which is almost a five-hundred-kilometer drive over three mountains away from our brewery in Akureyri. Shortly after we had begun to export our beers, ocean shipping companies took up direct routes to Akureyri, which made our lives considerably easier.
It is true that we need to import many of our ingredients, even though more and more of them are becoming available locally – and our focus is always on sourcing as locally as we can. All hops, along with bottles and cans need to be imported. We use local barley for our “Wee Heavy” and “Winter Ale”, but most other malts need to be imported as well. Of course, such imports are costly, but in our quest to brew the best of every style that we do, we pride ourselves in sourcing only the finest ingredients and the most skilled people.
"At least from a logistical perspective, northern Iceland is indeed in the middle of nowhere." Gudjon Gudmundsson
European Food: What is beer culture like in Iceland and which styles of beer are especially popular there?
Gudjon Gudmundsson: The beer culture in Iceland is still very young. In fact, beer was prohibited in Iceland until March 1, 1989. For the first couple of decades after beer had become legal, lager styles almost exclusively dominated the Icelandic market. As a nation, we started late in the craft revolution, but are catching up fast. This goes for most things in Iceland, once we have set our minds on them. Currently, there are over 20 micro/craft breweries which are already open or in the process of opening and the quality is getting very good. In the craft segment, white Ales and IPAs are quite popular now, along with some darker variants, but pretty much every style is represented.
"We need to import many of our ingredients, even though more and more of them are becoming available locally – and our focus is always on sourcing as locally as we can." Gudjon Gudmundsson
European Food: Besides its beers, Einstök also sells apparel, headwear and other items with its iconic Viking logo. How important is such brand management for your company – and why do you believe a staunch Viking captures the image Einstök would like to portray best?
Gudjon Gudmundsson: When developing our brand, our founder and Beer Master Jack Sichterman, who sadly passed away last year, discovered that the notions of exploring and discovery were very strong among craft beer drinkers. Knowing the history of Iceland, which has its roots in the Viking era, Jack realized the similarities between the two. Hence he started to call our target audience, who are now our fans, Modern Vikings. Much like our forefathers, they like to explore new frontiers and conquer new experiences. Our battle cry: “Drink. Conquer. Repeat.” is an encouragement to people to drink and live, conquer new experiences and do so over and over again. Our merchandise has been very well received by our growing number of fans.
"We pride ourselves in sourcing only the finest ingredients and the most skilled people." Gudjon Gudmundsson
European Food: Jack Sichterman, one of your founders, has appeared in a testimonial for “Invest in Iceland”, a public-private partnership set up to promote foreign investment in the country. What makes Iceland a unique place to do business in, and what opportunities await investors there?
Gudjon Gudmundsson: Iceland has a lot to offer and the business climate here is quite open. Iceland is located right between the United States and Europe and trades a lot in both directions. Reykjavik is less than a three-hour flight from London and just over five hours by plane from New York. The Icelandic workforce is highly skilled and there is an abundance of natural resources like water, power and fish. Lately, Iceland has also become attractive as a top tourist destination, as people like to visit and experience the natural wonders of our island.
European Food: Which of Einstök’s many beer varieties would you recommend to accompany a business dinner to kick off 2019?
Gudjon Gudmundsson: As a starter, our Icelandic White Ale is a favorite in every market we are active in, so that would be my first recommendation, even though it is difficult to make a choice with all our great varieties. All of our beers pair beautifully with food and I would look for opportunities to pair some of our beers to some of the menu items, finishing the night off with a sweet dessert and our Icelandic Toasted Porter.