What would the world be like without a refreshing beer at the end of a long, hard day? Well that’s what Icelanders dealt with for almost 75 years! From 1915 to 1989 beer (any brew with over 2.2 percent alcohol) was outlawed throughout the country. The original ban was against all alcoholic beverages. This was changed about seven years later to allow for the import of Spanish wines (as Spain refused to accept Icelandic fish exports unless their wines were imported). Then in 1934, the alcohol prohibition was lifted; for everything EXCEPT beer. Teetotaling lawmakers continued to push the ban until resistance grew as international travel became more popular. Finally in 1988 a vote was cast and the sale of beer was to be permitted again in March of the following year. To mark the repeal of this sad, sad law, they declared March 1st of every year since to be “Bjórdagur” or Beer Day.
Although not a festival in the traditional sense, Icelanders take this cultural milestone very seriously. In fact, since the repeal, beer has fast become the nation’s most popular alcoholic drink. The very first Beer Day saw thousands of revelers partying for several days; many consuming a beverage they had never before tasted. Seeing this, many entrepreneurial young folk got the idea to open bars and clubs of their own. The number of liquor licenses applied for climbed nearly 50 percent from 1988 to 1989 and pubs are now a regular fixture in the capital of Reykjavík and throughout Iceland. Pub crawls have become a popular pastime; but none more so than on the night of March 1st. The beers here are particularly flavorful given the microbreweries usage of only pure Icelandic spring water. Neon signs boasting a pint of Viking, Thule, Sterkur, or Egils draw people far and wide to the restaurants, bars, and pubs to celebrate this historic occasion. There is currently no established list of festivities. Rather, the gatherings inspired by the prohibition repeal reflect more of a welcoming of new traditions and the abolition of outdated and unnecessary laws.
Anyone visiting Iceland for Beer Day can expect to see many of the typically mellow hang outs get a lot wilder and crazier. Many establishments stay open until 4:00 am the following day to accommodate not only the sheer numbers of partiers, but also to empty out the vast quantities of beer stocked in advance of the anniversary. Expect large crowds, many places offering brews for half price or less, and typically friendly Icelanders becoming even more so on this fantastic festival night. Hard working and hard partying, Iceland knows how to throw a country wide party like no other.