Iceland Celebrates Beer Day, Here's Why

Icelandic beers
Icelandic beers | © yashima / Flickr
Photo of Camille Buckley
26 April 2018

With Iceland’s increasing specialism in craft beers, one can see and taste the long journey the country has taken since its rather recent end of prohibition in 1989. To commemorate the end of this decades-long prohibition, from 1915 to 1989, Iceland has established March 1st, the day the ban was lifted, as National Beer Day. Nowadays when you visit Iceland, you can taste a variety of experimental brews from craft breweries popping up.

Borg Brugghus Beers | © James Brooks/Flickr

In 1908, Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, a referendum that went into effect in 1915. In 1921, the ban was partially lifted after Spain refused to buy Iceland’s main economic export of fish unless Iceland bought Spanish wines. In 1935, the ban was lifted further after a national referendum came out in favor of lifting the ban to include liquor. Beer with an alcoholic content of 2.25% or more was not included in the 1935 referendum in order to please the temperance movement, which argued that the cheaper price of beer would lead to overconsumption.

Beer in Husavik | © JasonParis/Flickr

In the 1960s and 1970s, as Icelanders began to travel abroad more regularly and came into contact with other beer-drinking cultures, efforts to lift the ban were regularly put in parliament but was always rejected. In 1985, the prohibition was further unpopularized when the Minister of Justice prohibited pubs from adding legal spirits to light beer, which was a popular imitation method among Icelanders at the time. This seemed to be the last straw as beer was legalized shortly after. On March 1st, beer drinking was celebrated in pubs around the country. As one would guess, more and more bars also opened.

Beer | © ActiveSteve/Flickr

At present, Beer Day is celebrated in Iceland and there’s an appreciation of the country’s burgeoning home-grown varieties of beer with breweries such as Einstök and Brugghús. A pub crawl in Iceland is known as a rúntur and consists of exploring all the bars in the city until they close the next morning, which is quite late. Iceland now offers further ways to celebrate your appreciation for beer with The Beer Spa in the North, which lets you soak in a light beer bath, and there’s also The Annual Beer festival at Kex Hostel in Reykjavik.

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