Iceland Toasts 30 Years Since End of an Odd Ban

March 1 is National Beer Day
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 1, 2019 1:03 AM CST
Iceland Celebrates 30 Years Since Legalization of Beer
People gather to drink beer at a craft beer festival in Reykjavik.   (AP Photo/Egill Bjarnason)

Thirty years ago, a sobering dry spell in Iceland's history came to an end. On Friday, the country celebrates the anniversary of the lifting of a decades-long ban on beer with—what else?—a nationwide Beer Day. The drink was outlawed in Iceland for 74 years, while all other booze was completely legal. The alcoholic anomaly finally ended on March 1, 1989. The beer ban was a leftover from the country's prohibition era, which started in 1915 when the population voted in a referendum to outlaw all alcoholic drinks, the AP reports. The ban was partially lifted seven years later out of economic necessity—Spain refused to buy Iceland's main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines.

Prohibition was repealed in a 1933 referendum. But the vote was tight and to appease a powerful temperance movement, lawmakers decided beer would remain illegal. Historian Stefan Palsson says that at the time Icelanders didn't miss it. "They drank in order to become drunk and beer wasn't really efficient for that," he says. A thirst for change began in the 1970s when Icelanders increasingly started vacationing in beach resorts and developed a taste for a cooling beer. When the ban finally ended, all four bars in Reykjavik at the time were packed with drinkers toasting their newfound freedom while the country's population of 260,000 celebrated by buying more than 340,000 cans of beer at overcrowded Vinbudin monopoly stores. (In 2015, Iceland legalized blasphemy.)

(Read more Iceland stories.)

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