Icelandic Fish Beer a Hit at Seafood Expo Global

A beer made with Icelandic capelin roe, or masago, was a hit at the Seafood Expo Global conference that took place in Barcelona, Spain April 25-27, reports. Produced by Icelandic Asia, the beer is brewed with masago and shiso, a Japanese herb.

The beer was first introduced at the conference last year, but the shiso in this year’s batch is a new addition. “It was a hit last year and we decided to make a new version of it for this expo and it’s been a hit too,” stated Agnes Guðmundsdóttir, Icelandic Asia’s director of sales. The beer’s logo was designed by AI and the cans featured a QR code that drinkers could scan to win prizes and merchandise from Japan. Last year’s Masago Beer is pictured in the post below.

Masago is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine, including sushi. The Masago Beer was specially brewed for the event and is not for sale elsewhere. Readers craving an Icelandic drink with a fishy ingredient can try Collab, a caffeinated soda with fish collagen that has become popular in Iceland in recent years.

2023 Budget to Include 7.7% Hike on Alcohol

At a bar in Reykjavík Iceland, drinking beer.

In the latest draft of the 2023 budget, a 7.7% increase in alcohol tax is proposed.

Iceland already has some of the highest alcohol taxes in the world, and critics within the restaurant industry claim that the latest tax hikes will make Iceland less attractive as a tourist destination, and put unnecessary stress on an already-struggling industry.

In a report by the Icelandic Federation of Trade, it is stated that under the new tax structure, a common box of wine will increase on average by ISK 600, a bottle of liquor by some ISK 700, and a six-pack of beer some ISK 150.

Especially affected will be alcohol sales in Duty Free, which are currently taxed at the lower rate of 10%. Under the new structure, alcohol taxes will be raised to 25%, a 150% increase. In Duty Free, the same box of wine will increase by ISK 1,800, a bottle of liquor by ISK 2,300, and a six-pack of beer by ISK 240.

In an editorial on Vísir, Aðalgeir Ásvaldsson, director of the Association of Companies in the Restaurant Industry (SVEIT), states that the increased taxes will have to be built into prices, which will in turn contribute to high inflation. Aðalgeir critiqued the new budget plan, saying that high public fees and COVID restrictions have been extremely damaging to the industry which is so important to tourism. “The restaurant industry wants to contribute to society,” Aðalgeir stated. “We offer good food and drinks, create thousands of jobs and play an important role in shaping the culture of the country. We have had to endure much recently, but now enough is enough.”

Currently, 92% of the price of a bottle of liquor comes from state taxes, compared to 73% of the price of a bottle of wine, and 61% of the price of a can of beer.

As the budget draft currently stands, the tax hike on alcohol would represent an increase in ISK 1.64 billion to the treasury, and total income from alcohol tax for 2023 is projected to sit around ISK 25 billion.

The 2023 budget proposal has also come under recent critique for new taxes and fees levied on fuel, road tolls, vehicle imports, and other costs of owning a vehicle in Iceland. The increased taxes will represent a 36% increase in state revenues from transportation, but critics say that the increased prices will hurt the lowest-income Icelanders, with no accompanying expansion of public transportation. Despite the tax increases, however, the budget is still expected to yield a deficit of some ISK 89 billion, an improvement over the previous year’s ISK 169 billion deficit.

Smiðjan Brewery First to Sell Directly to Customers

icelandic beer

Smiðjan Brewery in Vík was the first to sell alcohol directly to customers when it officially got its license on Wednesday, July 13.

In a statement to Morgunblaðið, Sveinn Sigurðsson, one of the founders of Smiðjan, stated that it was important for the brewery to finally be able to sell directly. A majority of the customers that visit the brewery are foreign tourists and beer enthusiasts, and now they will be able to take beer home with them more easily.

At the moment, Smiðjan just has a restaurant and bar, but they are planning to significantly increase their production to meet the rising demand of direct sales.

Smiðjan has been offering brewery tours but expressed frustration that up until now, they were not allowed to sell alcohol directly to their customers after these tours. Smiðjan has also been frustrated that getting their product onto Vínbúðin shelves also takes several weeks, meaning that customers are not getting the freshest product possible.

Iceland has, up until now, had a state monopoly on alcohol. All alcohol must be purchased at Vínbúðin, the state alcohol distributor, except for some light beer which is available in grocery stores. Alþingi recently relaxed these restrictions, leading to a boom in online alcohol sales by private retailers.



Icelandic Breweries Can Now Sell Directly to Customers

Kaldi beer brewery

Starting tomorrow, July 1, breweries in Iceland will be permitted to sell their alcoholic products directly to customers. The change is thanks to a parliamentary bill passed on June 15 that somewhat relaxes the state monopoly on alcohol sales. While some say it’s high time alcohol was available for sale outside of state-run stores, others are wary increased availability will lead to higher rates of alcoholism.

The changes are long overdue, according to Ólafur Stephensen, CEO of the Icelandic Federation of Trade. He told RÚV that he hopes to see legislation concerning alcohol sales relaxed even further.

See Also: Business Booming for Online Alcohol Retailers

“The goal of the bill was, among other things, to strengthen culture-related tourism around breweries in the countryside. The result is that one or two breweries are excluded, both in Eyjafjörður [North Iceland]. And one producer of spirits in Borgarnes. There is no logic to that,” Ólafur stated, adding that there is no reason producers of spirits shouldn’t also be allowed to sell their products on site.

“These are companies that have the same criteria and have been building up tourism around their operations and production. These breweries produce too much and are therefore too big to fall under these legal amendments.”

The lack of alcoholic beverages in Icelandic grocery stores catches many foreign tourists by surprise. The state-run liquor store, Vínbúðin, is expensive, and opening hours can be sporadic during holidays and in more rural parts of the country. Vínbúðin stores are always closed on Sundays. While some have argued that increased access to alcohol will lead to increased alcohol abuse, a recent survey shows that almost half of Icelanders want beer and wine to be available in supermarkets.

Business Booming for Online Alcohol Retailers, Even Though Online Sales Aren’t Legal

Alþingi has yet to vote on whether private Icelandic retailers will be allowed to sell alcohol online, but RÚV reports that business is already booming for sellers willing to risk wading into this lucrative market before online sales are legalized.

Starting July 1, craft breweries will be allowed to sell alcohol on their premises. Alþingi voted in favour of this change on Wednesday. The bill to allow private retailers to sell alcohol online, however, was not voted on before the end of parliament’s session. But this hasn’t stopped Elías Blöndal Guðjónsson, co-owner of the online alcohol retailer Santewines SAS, from cashing in this holiday weekend. And not just this weekend, either: Like a small number of fellow sellers willing to take the risk before online sales are legalized, Santewines has been selling alcohol online for over a year and sales are increasing all the time.

See Also: Local Distributor Flouts Prohibitions on Home Beer Delivery

June 17th is Iceland’s National Day, so while people would normally be queuing in Vínbúð locations around the country to stock up on bevvies for the weekend, such wasn’t possible on Friday, when all state-run liquor store locations were closed. So many of these would-be customers hopped over to Elías’ website instead.

Elías said he isn’t worried about his operation being shut down, even though online alcohol sales haven’t been legalized yet. “We have all our ducks in a row and everything’s in order. We have a French company that is handling the online shop and legal products and we’re no more afraid than Amazon or EBay,” he remarked.

“I don’t actually think there are many people who have it out for the business,” Elías concluded. “Maybe ÁTVR [the State Alcohol and Tobacco Company, which runs Iceland’s Vínbúð stores], and maybe some Progressive Party MPs. […] The police were actually out here the other day, but they were just picking up an order.”

Skál! New Bill Would Allow Breweries to Sell Beer On-Site

A new bill would make it legal for small-scale breweries to sell alcohol on site. Vísir reports that the bill, presented by Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson, would allow breweries to sell bottled or can beer to visitors without having to resort to complicated and expensive workarounds, like applying for a liquor license and opening an on-site bar.

A similar bill was presented by former Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, but was met with protest from the state liquor authority (ÁTVR), which argued that the proposed changes would undermine state-run liquor stores.

See Also: Local Distributor Flouts Prohibitions on Home Beer Delivery

ÁTVR recently faced a setback in a similar attempt to quash alcohol retail on the open market. Just last week, the Reykjavík District Court ruled against the authority in its case against Sante ehf., Santewine SAS, and Bjórland, retail outlets that have begun selling alcohol outside of the state monopoly. In its case, ÁTVR demanded that these companies cease operations because ÁTVR holds the exclusive right to sell alcohol in Iceland.

ÁTVR has decided to appeal the recent ruling, but Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson, whose ministry oversees ÁTVR, would like to see the current bill go even further, saying he’d like to see traditional online alcohol retail permitted in Iceland.

Local Distributor Flouts Prohibitions on Home Beer Delivery

A new Icelandic beer distributor has begun delivering craft beer directly to customers’ homes in contravention of laws on alcohol sales to individuals, RÚV reports. “We’re challenging things a bit,” remarked Þórgnýr Thoroddsen, one of the owners behind Bjórland (‘Beerland’). “But really, we’re doing it because to us, it’s the most reasonable thing in the world.” went live on March 1. Initially, it only delivered beer to restaurants with licenses to sell alcohol. The COVID-19 pandemic immediately took a huge toll on the fledgeling company’s profits, however, which is how the owners came to the idea of experimenting with home delivery to individual customers. Reception has been very positive thus far.

“In short, we believe that we’re selling products that are on par with any other,” said Þórgnýr, pointing to inconsistencies within existing laws. “It’s already possible to get [alcoholic] beverages of this kind, in the same quantities, delivered to your home from abroad.”

Asked if he was concerned about incurring penalties for breaking current laws on domestic sales and deliveries of beer to customers at home, Þórgnýr said yes, but not immediately. He believes this is the only way to see how online alcohol sales to individuals in Iceland will be handled going forward.

Þórgnýr also said that his company was in a better position to challenge existing distribution and sales laws than small local breweries. “We’re taking one for the industry as a whole because small breweries generally don’t do so well against large ones,” he said. Small breweries have to invest a lot of energy into marketing and have a much smaller market share than their larger counterparts. Bjórland, concluded Þórgnýr, is in a much better position to make this challenge; small breweries have more to lose.

Fewer Tourists, Less Beer Sold

Dropping tourism numbers have led to a decline in beer sales throughout the country, RÚV reports. Even so, Gunnar B. Sigurgeirsson, Vice President of the Ölgerðin brewing company says that he believes the market is recovering, in part due to good summer weather and fewer Icelanders going abroad this summer than last year.

Both Gunnar and Áki Sveinsson, the marketing director at Coca Cola European Partners also say that larger organizations and entities such as restaurants in the capital area are not ordering as much beer from producers and distributors simply because there are fewer tourists. Áki agreed with Gunnar that the unusually warm and sunny summer weather has boosted sales and said that the limited-time summer beer was almost sold out. Things appear to be on the upswing in the industry, he said, and June has gotten off to a good start.

On the other hand, the state-run alcohol and liquor stores have not experienced the same decline in beer sales. In fact, looking at the numbers for beer sales between January and June both this year and last, it appears that Vínbúðin sold more beer this year. Vínbúðin does not keep records on foreign credit card usage, however, so it is unclear if the boost in sales is being driven by locals or visitors.

Iceland Celebrates Thirty Years of Legal Beer

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.