If you’re in Iceland on 1 March, you’ll be able to join in its Beer Day or Bjórdagurinn celebrations. This celebratory day honours the fact that the 74-year ban on beer in the country was finally lifted in 1989, having been imposed in 1915.
The situation arose after a referendum was held in 1908, and Icelanders voted in favour of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, with effect from 1 January 1915. Spain then refused to buy Iceland’s fish, its main export, unless Iceland bought Spanish wine, so the ban was partially lifted in 1921 to allow red and rosé Spanish and Portuguese wines to be bought. People brewed their own alcohol, of course, and it was smuggled into the country.
Another national referendum was held in 1935 and it came out in favour of legalising spirits, but beer with an alcohol content of 2.25% or more was not included. This was to appease the temperance lobby, which argued that because beer is cheaper than spirits, it would be easier to buy. Another factor was that beer was associated with Denmark, and Iceland was fighting to gain independence from that country and succeeded in 1944.
In the intervening years, bills to legalise beer were regularly shot down until prohibition was finally repealed on the island in 1989. Beer is now the drink of choice for most Icelanders, and it is celebrated with gusto every year on 1 March with the country’s national Beer Day. If you’re joining in the fun on the island that day, the Icelandic word for “cheers” or “bottom’s up” is “skál.”