Located in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are a place not on the radar of too many travellers. These 18 islands, a self-governing part of Denmark, are small and not the easiest place to get to but we visited for three days earlier this year. Although you can fly direct from Edinburgh in the UK, we decided to combine it with our recent trip to Iceland (see my previous post about bars in Reykjavik) so we flew out from Reykjavik City Airport to explore these mysterious islands.
Despite the Faroe Islands not being the busiest place in the world, the islands are well set up for tourism. The national carrier, Atlantic Airways, offer a range of packages featuring flights, hotels and hire car which we went for, English is widely spoken (along with the native language of Faroese, and Danish) and the infrastructure is good as most of the islands are connected by bridges or deep-sea tunnels. Driving around you’ll regularly find signs providing tourist info in multiple languages, well-maintained footpaths, and road signs pointing out places to see – along with the natural beauty of the islands.
But the most important question is – what is Faroese beer like? Here’s a little guide to drinking on the Faroe Islands and what you need to know.
The Faroe Islands are home to two breweries. Foroya Bjor (‘The Beer of the Faroes’) was founded in 1888 and also makes soft drinks while Okkara (‘Ours’) is a much newer brewery – set up in 2010 according to Wiki. In terms of the types of beers they produce, Foroya is a more traditional brewery while Okkara is more craft orientated. Confusingly, they both make beers called ‘Gull’ and ‘Classic’.
Okkara’s range includes a duo named after two sea stacks close to the islands: ‘Risi’, an American barley wine style beer, and Belgian-inspired ‘Kelling’ (the tale of the sea stacks is fantastic); Belgian Quad ‘Brandan’ and red ale ‘Rinkusteinur’.
Meanwhile, Foroya’s beers have a focus on traditional styles and include ‘Black Sheep’, ‘1888 Golden Ram’ and ‘Gull’.
In general, if you prefer to your beer more on the craft side, Okkara will probably appeal to you more but as each brewery has a fairly small range you’ll probably get the opportunity to sample most of them if you’re visiting.
Like neighbouring Iceland, the Faroe Islands also had an alcohol ban in place for a number of years – and it wasn’t lifted until 1992. Beer is now available widely in restaurants and bars, but there are some venues that only have a half-licence which only allows for the sale of beer and wine and not all alcoholic beverages.
Buying beer in the shops
Again, like in Iceland, beer is not available in the shops or supermarkets. You can only buy alcohol in the state-run shops, Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins and there are just six of them across the islands. In the capital Torshavn, there’s one in a large shopping centre. Sadly, they have quite limited opening times – including closing at 2pm on a Saturday and not opening at all on a Sunday, so during our brief visit we didn’t get to pop in and see what they sold or what the prices were like.
Buying beer at the airport
Vagar Airport is an odd little airport. The runway is absolutely tiny and it’s surrounded by mountains and just generally seems a strange place for an airport (plus, the landing was a bit on the wobbly side for me!) When we got off the plane and into the terminal building, the first thing you find is the duty free shop. It must be cheaper than the alcohol shops – or maybe just more convenient – as we saw a fair few of the locals stocking up. You go through the same shop on both arrival and departure, so if you do want some local beer to take home you can buy it on the way back. Gift packs are available for both breweries offering six different beers and it’s about £13 to buy both packs together, or they also sell packs of cans and bottles from both Foroya and Okkara.
Beer in restaurants
Restaurants on the islands do seem to have a decent beer selection. The islands’ most famous restaurant is probably Koks, and sadly that was out of our price range but I’ve read recently that Mikkeller have made a special beer for them now. During our visit, we found ourselves in a cosy, fish restaurant named Barbara and also modern sushi place Etika, and both had some local bottles.
Bars in Torshavn
For a fairly small place, Torshavn has a good range of bars and places to drink. Generally, the Faroese choose to go out later (for example, they were still going at 4am and there was a kebab shop near us and I do believe it stayed open right up to 6am), so if you’re off for a few drinks early on you may find yourself the only people in the bar! Each bar we visited had at least a few options from either, or sometimes both, breweries on draft. Sirkus was a particular favourite as it had plenty of space, was full of character and had a really good bottle selection with most of Okkara’s current range available. Other places we frequented included Cafe Natur which had options from Foroya (including their Nordic berry cider while we were there) and regular live music and the bar in our hotel, Hvonn Brasserie. also had beers from both breweries on draft although it had no real atmosphere. It did appear there was a club close to the harbour as we could still hear them going quite late on, but I’ve no idea where it was!
**UPDATE: As of October 2017, Mikkeller now have a bar in Torshavn which can be found at Gongin 2 next to Barbara Fishhouse. See their website for the current beer list.
So there’s a brief intro to beer on the Faroe Islands. Aside from getting the opportunity to sample beer I’d never get the chance to elsewhere, the islands have stunning scenery and there is so much to explore – but the beer was the icing on the cake. Take a look at some of my images from the Faroe Islands below – or visit Ross’ Flickr for some much better pictures! Alternatively, if you’re looking for more info on the country, see my guide to visiting the Faroe Islands on my travel blog.