It comes as a surprise to many but beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989! Since then Icelanders celebrate beer day, the day it was made legal by drinking a lot of it. If you are in Iceland on March 1st be sure to make the most of the Beer day parties and special offers!
Full prohibition was voted in in 1915, however it didn’t last long, only 6 years. Surprisingly, the reason for it’s relaxation was due to Spain being very upset at Iceland no longer buying it’s red wine. They threatened to stop importing the salted cod from Iceland, the countries biggest export at the time.
As well as the red and rose wine being imported from Portugal and Spain Doctors prescribed booze for all kinds of ailments, and in great quantity. On top of that smuggling alcohol and making moonshine at home was rife.
Prohibition on almost all alcohol ended in 1933, including 2.25% light beer…you’d have to drink a huge amount to get drunk! Part of the reason that full strength beer was still forbidden was that, at the time, Iceland was trying to gain independence from Denmark. Denmark famously drank a huge amount of beer, so drinking it here didn’t seem very patriotic!
The trouble was people still wanted a beer. So, ever inventive, the Icelanders came up with ‘bjórlíki’ which means ‘like-beer.’ Essentially any strong alcohol, such as moonshine, whiskey, or vodka, even wine, was added to the 2.25% pilsner you could buy easily. It wasn’t as good as beer, and apparently tasted pretty awful (we can imagine) but it was as good as you could get until 1989.
How did prohibition end and beer day begin?
By the 1980’s international travel meant that Icelanders were enjoying beer abroad regularly, and some people, such as pilots and flight crew were allowed to bring some home with them. The rules were lax, and to many people seemed very unfair. The people spoke out and the beer ban was eventually lifted on the 1st of March in 1989.
That day people celebrated and got very drunk on beer. As a country that has a lot of festivals, it was definitely time to add one more. Beer day was here! For the past 32 years Icelanders have gone out and made the most of the legality of beer on that night. Now Iceland makes it’s own beers too, with micro breweries springing up all over the place. Make time to have a beer in Iceland!