If you pop on down to your local state-owned alcohol store in the mood for a 40 (that’s a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor, to you non-Americans), you’re out of luck. Malt liquor—a malted barley beer known for its cheapness and high alcohol content—is not available for sale in Iceland. Do not make the common mistake of thinking Malt Extrakt is malt liquor: it has almost no alcohol in it, and the taste is more like liquorice soda than anything resembling beer. You can find beer that’s high in alcohol, like the ominous Saint Omer 8%, or beer that is cheap, like the frankly terrifying Euro Shopper lager, but you’re not going to find Olde English 800, Colt 45, Magnum, or any of the other iconic cornershop beers one normally drinks from a brown paper bag.
Why is this? We called Ölgerðin, one of the largest importers and producers of alcohol in Iceland. An employee we spoke to explained that there is no law which forbids the import and sale of malt liquor in Iceland, and that Colt 45 was at one point for sale here. However, the alcohol market in Iceland is one of the few markets in the country where consumers have full control. ÁTVR, the government office which oversees the import and sale of alcohol in Iceland, only makes available so many “seats” for brands of beer sold in Iceland, and if the sale of a particular beer does not reach at least the bottom seat, it is simply taken off the shelves. The employee speculated that Colt 45 probably never sold enough units to justify its import.
You can, though, take solace in a little-know fact about ÁTVR: you can contact them personally and request that they import an unavailable brand of alcohol for you, and there is no minimum limit on how much you order. So you could, conceivably, contact ÁTVR and request they import a single 40-ounce bottle of Olde English 800 for you; whether they will do so is another matter. If they won’t, then you can also buy malt liquor from any number of websites that sell alcohol, although then you’re facing customs and import taxes.
A more immediate solution is to just buy Garún Garún, an Icelandic Imperial stout that boasts a whopping 21% alcohol content. It’s not exactly cheap, though, and comes in those tiny 33mL bottles. It also doesn’t have the distinct syrupy sweet taste of your common malt liquor. For those of us who appreciate a cold 40 every now and then, it’s a sad state of affairs, but malt liquor will for the time being remain yet another thing missing in Iceland.