For Icelandic beer drinkers, March 1st is a pretty big deal. The day is unofficially known as Beer Day (Bjórdagur) and marks the end of prohibition in Iceland…well, when it comes to beer that is!
While prohibition in the U.S. lasted from 1920 to 1933, the Icelandic public had a national referendum in 1908 for the ban of all alcoholic drinks. The result of the referendum showed that Icelanders liked the idea of being stone cold sober, so prohibition came into effect in 1915.
Iceland’s trade partners at the time weren’t all too pleased with this, especially Spain. The Spanish refused to buy Iceland’s main export, fish, if Icelanders would no longer be buying any Spanish wine, so the ban was partially lifted in 1921 to allow the importing of wine.
Prohibition was lifted further in 1935 when a second referendum relaxed the ban to allow spirits and most other types of alcohol, but beer with an alcohol content of above 2.25% remained banned.
As international travel brought Icelanders back in touch with beer, bills to legalize it were regularly proposed in parliament, but inevitably were all shot down for one reason or another.
Prohibition lost more support in 1985, when the Minister of Justice enacted a law that prohibited pubs from adding legal spirits to non-alcoholic or low-alcohol beer (lower than 2.25%) to make a potent imitation of normal strength beer, something that had become quite popular in Iceland at the time.
That seemed to be the last straw and soon after the upper house of Iceland’s Parliament voted 13 to 8 to fully legalize beer, finally ending prohibition in the country.
On the first day of beer being legal, Icelanders flocked to the state run alcohol stores around the country (Vínbúðin) and bought an impressive 340,000 cans of this once forbidden drink.
Ever since then, March 1st has been called Beer Day. Skál!