Houses in iceland - lady brewery feature

Meet the ‘Ladies’: Inside Iceland’s Women-Led Craft Beers

The craft beer revolution is well underway and growing stronger every year. Micro-brewed ales exploded around 10 years ago, and what was once a rare sight, has now been transformed into a popular pub poison.

Intricate, colourful illustrations decorate both shop shelves and bar fridges across the globe, containing a symphony of flavours just waiting to be explored! And it’s no different for Icelanders, who are enjoying a strong craft beer scene of their own.

But there’s a bunch of brewers who are really shaking up the industry in this Nordic country. Lady Brewery is one of a handful of its kind—a female-led beer business in an overwhelmingly male industry. Located in the capital, Reykjavik, the brewery has been open for six years and boasts a tasty array of female-inspired creations.

We spoke to Þórey Björk Halldórsdóttir, head brewer and owner, about not only her brewery but also being a woman in a traditionally man’s world.

How did you get into brewing?

lady brewery

I fell into it accidentally, as my background is actually in design.

Me and my former business partner were looking to start a project together and both had an interest in something to do with the senses, like distilling natural scents.

After a lot of talking (often over a drink, of course), nothing happened. Until that is, a friend told me she’d just bought some brewing equipment and was planning on making some beer. We were inspired!

Every Wednesday, we would meet to brew beer in our kitchen out of a bucket. After a while, we worked with local chefs to provide a paid dining experience from our own living room. Chefs would taste our beer and pair it with a delicious, bespoke dish. It was a success!

9 months on, we became an official brewing company. People labelled us the ‘ladies that brew’, so naturally we called ourselves ‘Lady Brewery’!

Introduce us to some of your beers

lady brewery

We have three Ladies that are our core beers (we name all our creations ‘Lady’ here at the brewery).

  • First Lady (5.7%) is an IPA and our first creation with citrusy and floral notes. Everyone knows her—she’s the core DNA of the brewery!
  • Drink Like A Girl (4.5%) is a New England Hazy Pale that’s very tropical and juicy. This is our ‘out and about’ young lady who skates around without a care in the world.
  • Basic Bitch (4.5%) is a lager. What can we say, she’s basic!

There’s a fourth Lady coming this summer called ‘The Other Woman’. She’ll be a blonde—our very own Marilyn Monroe with that little extra something!

I consider them all my favourites.

My absolute favourite beer, however,  is ‘Loksins Loksins’ – a gose made with Icelandic salt, lime zest, coriander seeds, Icelandic arctic thyme and a touch of white pepper for a tiny kick! I thought about this recipe for three years and decided to just make a 2000L brew of it—go big or go home! Normally, I brew test batches, just to see if it works. But there was no need here because it was a masterpiece!

I also want to mention my weirdest Lady, Óþekktir Skógar—‘Unknown Forests’ in English.

She’s an imperial stout with birch bark, leaves and tar, gullkollur, pine needles and Angelica seeds. Nordic Angan, a company here that makes essential oils and scents from Icelandic flora, helped us make it. Drinking it transports you into the deepest, darkest reaches of a burnt forest. Smokey and very light, she’s just amazing to experience.

What inspired their creation?

The Icelandic landscape and nature are extremely inspiring when making new flavours. I forage for elements to use in beer experiments and really love it. My childhood also plays a big role in how I think about taste and experience.

I would bake with my father, forage for herbs and berries with my grandmother and fish and pick clams with my mother. So, when I’m creating a taste profile, I recall the memories and look to my surroundings for inspiration.

When I’m planning a new beer, I start with a style or specific ingredient. I question those who work with flavours and taste, and I smell everything when I’m in the countryside.

As for their names, it’s part of the storytelling. So, our Drink Like A Girl is a positive spin on a negative phrase like, “You throw like a girl”.

The Other Woman is a reference to Marilyn Monroe and First Lady references Jackie Kennedy, so there’s a story and sometimes a link between beers.

Do you have a favourite beer aside from Lady Brewery’s?

I love beers from Fonta Flora Brewery in the USA and TO Öl, a microbrewery based in Denmark.

As for individual beers, SpontanBasil from Brouwerij Lindemans, Ljúflingur from Böl and an ice-cold Peroni on a hot summer’s day are some personal favourites.

What has your experience been as a woman in the industry?

lady brewery

We’ve definitely faced different treatment because of our gender.

I was speaking at a lecture in Denmark once and someone asked, “Why do you talk about being a woman in brewing so much?”. I replied, “Because it matters, only 3% of all craft breweries around the world are owned by women, and that tells you everything!”.

Fortunately, I don’t take myself too seriously, so it’s easy to brush off this kind of nonsense. But there’s a lot of crazy stuff you deal with in the industry, like men (with no actual knowledge of brewing) telling me how to brew.

Historically, brewing was the woman’s job. Throughout many different cultures, there are beer goddesses but no gods, so it’s deep-rooted in women’s culture and history. It was only when women started to make money from brewing that the Church and State excluded them. They were considered witches and were often burned for it.

It’s important for everyone working at Lady Brewery to be feminist, and want to work with women.

What’s been the public reaction to Lady Brewery?

Great! Nothing but good vibes.

There’s a big gap in the market for people (women especially) who enjoy a complicated craft beer in an uncomplicated way. You don’t need to be a specialist to enjoy our Ladies, you just need to like beer!

What’s some advice you’d give to women who want to get into brewing or other male-dominated industries?

Just do it!

And finally, what does the future hold for Lady Brewery?

lady brewery

We would love to do something in New York, Helsinki or Tokyo. We’re in the process of setting up a sister company called SODALAB, where we’ll create non-alcoholic drinks.

I often joke that we’ll open a bar in Dubai since there’s a lack of gender equality in law and society. But right now, we’re living in the present, making sure the business is good in Iceland.

Fancy sampling some of the Ladies whilst you’re in Reykjavik? Then book yourself onto one of their brewery tours.

Lady Brewery also opens up its headquarters in the summer for interested beer folk, where you can enjoy a drink in the sun, visit their bottle shop and see their studio space. Head to Hólmaslóð 6, 101 in Reykjavik’s fish packing district to find out what the fuss is all about.

Skál!

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