Iceland Celebrates Thirty Years of Legal Beer Skip to content

Iceland Celebrates Thirty Years of Legal Beer

By Larissa Kyzer

Today, March 1, marks the thirtieth anniversary of beer being legalized in Iceland, RÚV reports. Since beer was legalized, Icelanders have consumed some 346 million litres [91.4 million gallons] of beer, or, to put it in perspective, they’ve drunk the volume of the big pool at Laugardalur 249 times.

March 1, 1989, the day that the beer ban was first lifted after 74 years of prohibition, is remembered as a day of great celebration in Reykjavík. Thirsty revelers gathered downtown, waited in long queues at the few establishments that had beer to sell, and, according to some memories of the day, danced on tables after a few rounds of the newly legalized beverage. According to figures published the next day, the state-run liquor stores sold 340,000 cans of beer on that single day, although that figure is somewhat in doubt.

Seven kinds of beer were sold on the first Beer Day: Sanitas Pilsner, Egils Gull, Budweiser, Löwenbräu, Tuborg, Kaiser and Sanitas Lager. Today, by contrast, the state-run liquor stores sell 500 different kinds of beer, although the exact number in increases during special holiday promotions at Christmas and Easter.

On the first Beer Day, the daily paper Morgunblaðið also published a map that showed all the kinds of beer being sold at the various Vínbúð locations and the prices of each. Prices ranged from ISK 93 [$0.77; €0.68] to ISK 110 [$0.92; €0.88] for a single can to ISK 560 [$4.70; €4.13] to ISK 660 [$5.53; €4.86] for a six-pack. At the time, there were 17 Vínbúð locations in the country, five of which were located in the Reykjavík. Today, there are 51, not counting the fact that it is also possible to place orders through the Vínbúð website.

Interestingly, while it was in effect, the beer ban was not absolute. Starting in 1965, ship and airline crews were permitted to bring beer into the country. This was eventually challenged by Davíð Scheving Thorsteinsson in 1979 on the grounds of unequal treatment under the law. The following year, tourists visiting the country were allowed to buy beer in the Duty Free, but although bills that would have ended the beer ban were presented in parliament, none managed to pass. In 1989, however, Alþingi finally passed a bill that fully ended the prohibition of beer.

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