Happy Beer Day! Iceland marks 30th anniversary of end of ban

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Thirty years ago, a sobering dry spell in Iceland’s history came to an end.

On Friday, the country celebrates the anniversary of the lifting of a decades-long ban on beer with — what else? — a nationwide Beer Day.

The drink was outlawed in Iceland for 74 years, while all other booze was completely legal. The alcoholic anomaly finally ended on March 1, 1989.

The beer ban was a leftover from the country’s prohibition era, which started in 1915 when the population voted in a referendum to outlaw all alcoholic drinks.

The ban was partially lifted seven years later out of economic necessity — Spain refused to buy Iceland’s main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines.

Prohibition was repealed in another national referendum in 1933. But the majority vote was tight and to appease a powerful temperance movement Iceland’s parliament decided beer would remain illegal.

Historian Stefan Palsson, moonlighting as a teacher at a brewery-based “School of Beer,” said that at the time Icelanders didn’t miss it.

“They drank in order to become drunk and beer wasn’t really efficient for that,” he said.

Alcohol abuse remains an issue. One in 10 Icelandic males over the age of 15 have been to rehab at least once in their lifetime, according to SAA, the country’s leading addiction treatment centre.

With alcoholism still widespread, most Icelanders favour strict government restrictions on alcohol sales. Apart from the country’s bars, alcohol — beer included — is only sold at government-run monopoly stores, with limited opening hours and high taxes.

A pint of beer costs about 1,100 krona ($9) in bars, while a bottle of Smirnoff vodka costs the equivalent of $67 in the stores that sell it.

A thirst for change began in the 1970s when Icelanders increasingly started vacationing in sunny European beach resorts and developed a taste for a cooling beer.

Back home, local bartenders responded by inventing the “bjorliki” cocktail, a pseudo-beer made by blending non-alcoholic pilsner with aquavit — in very variable ratios.

Yet a large part of the population still opposed lifting the beer ban when parliament debated the issue for the last time in 1988.

Steingrimur Sigfusson, who is parliamentary speaker today, at the time painted a gloomy picture of the chaos that would result as “hundreds of taverns” opened up to crowds with no experience of the beverage. He voted against the proposition.

He still defends the country’s restrictive alcohol policy that aims to limit binge and teen drinking.

“The worst-case predictions never came true but underage drinking did increase,” Sigfusson said.

The ban finally ended on a Wednesday. All four bars in Reykjavik were jam packed with drinkers toasting their new-found freedom while the country’s population of 260,000 celebrated by buying more than 340,000 cans of beer at overcrowded Vinbudin monopoly stores.

“I wasn’t sure what to make of this day — we knew so little about beer,” said Sigurdur Snorrason, founder of the RVK brewing company, at a craft beer festival in the capital Reykjavik celebrating the milestone anniversary.

Hreindis Ylva was born the day the ban was lifted. She is celebrating her 30th birthday Friday with friends in a wooden house in Reykjavik’s open air museum. She won’t be sipping any suds, though.

“I think beer looks delicious served in a glass, but the taste is not for me,” she said. “This cool birthday is completely wasted on me.”

Just Posted

Intelligence official charged seemed to be ‘exemplar of discretion’: former colleague

A professor who once worked with an RCMP intelligence official charged with… Continue reading

More than 100 people participate in the Light the Night Walk in Red Deer

Red Deer’s Michael Wark was 27 when he was diagnosed with cancer.… Continue reading

‘Big bang’ precedes Red Deer house fire, says neighbour

A Red Deer home was heavily damaged by a fire early Friday… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Grilling meat at Shelter Ribfest in Red Deer

The first-ever Shelter Ribfest is on this weekend at Gary W. Harris… Continue reading

Red Deer man arrested, charged for drug-related offences

A Red Deer man is facing a number of charges, including possession… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: 10 effortlessly stylish items for fall

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Wednesday Central Alberta Historical Society annual general meeting is 6 p.m. at… Continue reading

UAW members on the job at GM plants after contract expires

DETROIT — The four-year contract between General Motors and the United Auto… Continue reading

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

TORONTO — Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world… Continue reading

Police seeking multiple suspects in shooting that left 1 dead and 5 wounded

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — A teenage boy is dead and five other people… Continue reading

Trump front and centre as talk of trade, jobs emerges on campaign trail

OTTAWA — A familiar U.S. face finally showed up front and centre… Continue reading

RDC Kings and Queens cross country dominate on home turf

There was a lot of pride floating around amongst the host team… Continue reading

Hunting Hills Lightning cruise past Foothills Falcons in high school football action

The Hunting Hills Lightning showed their Football Alberta ranking was no fluke… Continue reading

Two students dead, several seriously injured in Vancouver Island bus rollover

Two University of Victoria students died and several people were injured after… Continue reading

Most Read