Words seem inadequate to describe the Faroe Islands, such is their grandeur. It is a land of waterfalls, waves, wind and rock. The light changes so frequently that the same view can look endlessly different. Places like Gasadalur (below) reveal themselves regally as the fog rolls away.
51,000 people live on 18 islands in the Atlantic, with Iceland to the north and Shetland to the south. Some of the islands are now linked by tunnels and more are being built. Faroe has an autonomous government and sends representatives to the Danish parliament, though it is not in the EU. It has its own language and bank notes. The capital, Tórshavn, is functional, attractive but not twee.
It has a tiny old town that includes the Parliament and a cluster of highly regarded restaurants.
There are ancient and modern churches to excite the eye.
Many of the buildings are wooden with a grass roof. And every village seems to have superb sporting facilities. “It keeps the young ones out of trouble” the football coach at Runavik told me, who turned out to be Jens Martin Knudsen, the Faroe goalkeeper who famously played in a bobble hat. The hat now resides in the UEFA museum.
Up on the cliff top is Toftir where Scotland laboured to a draw (twice) in surroundings like no other international stadium.
Naturally football was on the agenda. Bottom of the table EB/Streymur’s website clearly anticipated their defeat v AB. Most of the grounds are in indecently beautiful settings.
What of the beer scene? There are two particularly noteworthy bars. One is Danish, Mikkeler, in this charming 500 year old building.
Mikkeler neatly embellished their standard glass with a hat (are you sensing a theme here?)
The other, Bjorkovin, is Icelandic with beers from Reykjavik’s Borg Brugghus. It is situated near the harbour below a bar called Sirkus. We really liked this place.
One night we were served by Ragnar, a delightful young man who has just made an album with his folk duo, Raske Drenge. Unusually for Faroese folk music they play instruments, in a country with a tradition of unaccompanied singing.
Quality draught beer cost about £8 for half a litre here but if you wanted a bottle of Westvleteren make that £27. Upstairs Sirkus is more mainstream but shares the same Icelandic ownership. There is a thriving music scene on the islands with a great record shop and label.
The Faroese did once vote for independence but didn’t implement it after a change of government. In Bjorkovin the beers we liked best were a superbly balanced double IPA and Ultrun, an easy quaffing, unfined session IPA.
Bars don’t open at lunchtimes and must close by midnight on weekdays but can – and do – stay open till 04.00 on Fridays and Saturdays. Apparently they get busy around 2 when Faroese youth come out but we didn’t put that to the test.
The established brewery is Føroyar Bjor but I found their beers heavily carbonated. It takes some bravery to set up in competition to them, especially in a country where prohibition was lifted as recently as 1992. But ten years ago that is what Okkara Brewery did. It is in the south of Streymor, near Kirkjubøur and it’s hidden ruined medieval cathedral.
We rolled up and met Petur Petersen, the boss and his Chair, Ole Hansen.
Petur is known as Petur Øl (Petur Beer) and everyone knows him. We had tried their excellent Guldhornid, a 5.5% dry hopped IPA in Mikkeler the night before. Here, despite calling unannounced near close of business, we were made to feel most welcome and given samples of Number 2 and Rinkusteinur, a fascinating 5.8% beer. Basalt rocks are heated to 800 degrees then placed in the wort, caramelising the beer and creating a mineral taste. It is a complex beer with a hoppy nose, bitter but with a warming effect.
They are also maturing an 11.5% beer called Number 11 in rum casks but Ole explained why their beers usually did not exceed 5.8%. Anything stronger can only be sold in State monopoly stores, where the government take is 30%.
Peter is a true beer evangelist and has persuaded Atlantic Airways to stock their beer as well as a wide range of other outlets, though the only other place with Guldhornid on draught was in Hotel Tórshavn.
You don’t go to the Faroe Islands just for good beer but you can be sure to find it there all the same.