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Great Moments in Icelandic History: Iceland get the beer back

Great Moments in Icelandic History: Iceland get the beer back

Published August 1, 2008

Imagining Reykjavík without beer is like imagining Amsterdam without hash brownies. However, only nineteen years ago (!) it was against the law to sell and buy beer in Iceland. The long, strange saga began in 1908 when Icelanders actually voted for a hardcore, full-alcohol ban. It eventually went into effect in 1915. The island’s sober, teetotaling party didn’t last long until trouble erupted, as Spain put its foot down and declared if Iceland wasn’t going to buy its wine, they weren’t going to buy Iceland’s fish – a potential death knell for the economy. To remedy this, in 1922 prohibition for wine was repealed, and other alcoholic beverages have been legally imported since 1934, yet, bizarrely, beer was exempt. For nearly a century, boozers jonesin’ for a brewski had to smuggle them into the country. It wasn’t until 1988 that a beer-sympathetic parliament finally stepped in; Alþingi voted 13 to 8 to end the ban. The New York Times reported at the time that there was jubilation in the streets as “a dozen beer-lovers flashed victory signs outside Parliament after the results came in.”

When beer was officially legalised on March 1, 1989, it was truly a night to remember, recalls Ölstofan bar owner, Kormákur Geirharðsson. “I remember a lot of drinking and a lot of pissing all night long and the next days, and it [was] not stopping,” said Geirharðsson. “This was the day Icelanders took the step to try to become civilized.  Ölstofan was not open then, but the idea of owning a bar started there.”

According to a report by alcohol studies researcher, Hildigunnur Ólafsdóttir, once the beer ban was lifted, the number of liquor licenses in Reykjavík jumped by 47% in one year. Immediately following the introduction, total alcohol consumption rose by 23% from 1988 to 1989, from 4.48 to 5.51 litres of alcohol per inhabitant 15 years old and over. As of 2007, consumption is up to 7.1 litres of alcohol per capita. Since the repeal of the ban, aside from the bars, beer can be purchased at the state-run alcohol distributor, ÁTVR. Viking is the most popular beer-brand sold there; Thule is second.

To commemorate Iceland’s day of beer freedom in the country, March 1 is considered Beer Day and citizens hoist a brew to spite alcoholic oppression. The legalisation of beer remains a cultural milestone in Iceland and a major seismic shift in the nation’s alcoholic beverage preference, as beer has today become the most popular alcoholic beverage of choice.



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Workers Unite!

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Earlier this month, a news story broke in the Icelandic media that a young Icelandic girl working at Lebowski Bar was fired after she asked to be paid minimum wage—effectively a pay rise over what she was getting. The story sparked shock and outrage amongst many. To others, it was merely par for the course. Restaurants, bars and clubs in Iceland are notorious for the use of what is known as jafnaðarkaup (“median pay”)—a form of wage offsetting. By most collective bargaining agreements in the service industry, a worker is supposed to receive a base hourly wage, plus an extra

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Unless you’ve been literally living in a cave for the past two weeks, chances are that you’ve heard of the possible eruption at Bárðarbunga peak. In the end (at the time of writing), this insufferable geological formation didn’t have the decency to erupt even a little bit, let alone disrupt air travel across the European continent. Instead, it rumbled, made some tremors, fooled scientists into thinking a small eruption was underway when there totally wasn’t, annoyed farmers affected by the evacuation of the area, spawned endless alarmist articles in the international press, and failed to destroy the Kárahnjúkar Dam. Worst.

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A group of handsome young men gather in the historic city of Rome this week, in the hopes of winning the title of Mr Gay World, an annual beauty pageant for gay rights. The winner of the competition gets to travel all over the world as a global representative for the international gay community. Our very own Iceland has a hopeful delegate in this year’s running, the super charismatic Mr Troy Michael. “I love the gay scene in Iceland. It’s just so great and almost the whole country was at Gay Pride and everything. It’s so awesome,” says Troy. With Iceland’s gay-friendly laws

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Dyngjujökull Glacier Photo Gallery

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On August 21, photographer Axel Sigurðarson flew over Dyngjökull glacier in a two-seater airplane through Mýflug Air. He didn’t see any volcanic eruption, but snapped some gorgeous shots for us—check them out below. See more Eruption Iceland stories.

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