Women brew fantastic beer, since the ancient Greek period and probably even before – anywhere in the world, hence also in Iceland. 3B talked to the ladies behind the creative brewers of Lady Brewery in Reykjavik about their mission and, of course, their beer.
“We’re homeless,” laughs Þórey Björk Halldórsdóttir, sarcastic from the first minute we start talking. Together with Ragnheiður Axel Eyjólfsdóttir, Raxel the two are Lady Brewery, a nomadic pop-up brewery of sorts based in Reykjavik. They were founded, more or less, in the fall of 2017 and have been shacking up in the former Coca Cola building on the harbor in Reykjavik since then. Though, they never intended to need a room of their own.
Raxel and Þórey started brewing for fun. They’d meet once a week on Wednesdays to mess around with grains and make some tasty beers. After eight months of doing this, success sort of stumbled onto them. “We were doing a lot of collabs and just trying to make beers that we like to drink,” says Raxel. They partnered with restaurants and made small batches. They’d host dinners for friends with their botched test beers to get their name out. Now their hobby days are long gone, and beer is becoming a full-time job.
BREWING GIRLS? FINALLY HERE
Let’s state the obvious, here: brewing is still often perceived as a man’s sport. It’s a dude-ish pastime, something undainty and beer-belly inducing. Though Iceland is objectively ahead of many of its western counterparts when it comes to equality among genders (see paternity leave rates, the 2017 wage referendum), even on this island nation, brewing is still a largely male-dominated industry. This makes the Lady Brewery, the ladies behind it, their image and their focus still something of a novelty.
“We have people telling us how cool it is that we’re doing this. We think, we’re just women, what’s the big deal? But women are coming to us and asking if they can just be with us and watch us while we brew,” the ladies share. And indeed, it’s fanfare from more than lay-people and friends, the ladies are receiving lots of support from within the community as well. Other male-operated breweries in Iceland, as well as the other five women-owned/run breweries in the country have opened supportive arms and are happy to see women seeking careers in the field, and making damn good beer doing it. “The men love us. They keep saying, finally you’re here!”
WHAT ABOUT THE GOODS
The flagship beer, the signature gem of a dame that has found a home in curated beer bars throughout the country is First Lady, a delicate but pleasantly hoppy IPA. Her name, like the name of their brewery project, came to them as they were brewing and was not up for discussion. “We were just like, we’re gonna be Lady Brewery. That’s it.” In total, they have six regular beers on rotation in varying batch sizes. Among these are a Good Enough For Me red ale and an Óður smoked porter. Their second upcoming mainstay, the Other Lady, is none other than a Belgian blonde. Typical.
The two are clearly a bit tongue in cheek. And quirky. And innovative. They don’t brew seasonal beers for the seasons, but rather for holidays like tax return day, Seaman’s Day (an Icelandic holiday celebrating those who work at sea), or the summer solstice. Recently, in honor of a seaman long ago lost at sea and as an homage to their own bumpy beginnings, the ladies made a white ale with the angelica and angelica root native to Icelandic beaches, the beaches that welcome seafarers home after they’ve braved the whipping winds and boisterous waters.
EVERY FLOWER HAS A STORY
This story element is a key component of what makes Lady Brewery more revolutionary than “just” a couple of chicks brewing some beer. “We use storytelling a lot in making the beer to help design the whole experience,” says Raxel. Design they do. Though Raxel comes from an agricultural background––her family owns a company that forages berries and roots––, she’s worked as a designer in the past. Þórey, too, has a design company with her husband. For the duo, a keen attention to aesthetic detail is of course going to be a critical component of any immersive beer experience.
“I want to do full on jogging suits, I want to go all the way. It’s fun to do something like that that you don’t see. Beer is not just this manly thing, you know, where you go to the pub and spread your legs. That’s the image of beer now. And we were like, why can’t we make it more beautiful, why can’t we share it like wine or whisky” waxes Þórey. So the red ale from Lady Brewery simply comes in a champagne bottle. They’re toying with bottling in an even more table-friendly magnum bottle. Thus far, no vocal complaints.
To the contrary, people are flocking to them and their optics. They just did a collaboration with ÓX, the smallest restaurant in Iceland, and the most exclusive, with only eleven seats and a strict reservation and bill-ahead policy. However, the duo remains level-headed through all of the attention being lauded on them, focused on building this brand and making it their own. “To the core, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We just want to make good beer.”
**An earlier version of this article reversed the names of the brewers. Thank you to Raxel and Þórey for pointing this out.
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Photo Credit: Lady Brewery