Prohibition in Iceland

Prohibition in Iceland went into effect in 1915 and lasted, to some extent, until 1 March 1989 (since celebrated as "Beer Day"). The ban had originally prohibited all alcohol, but from 1935 onward only applied to "strong" beer (with an alcohol content of 2.25% or more).


In a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted in favour of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, going into effect 1 January 1915. In 1921, the ban was partially lifted after Spain refused to buy Iceland's main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines; then lifted further after a national referendum in 1935 came out in favour of legalising spirits. Strong beer (with an alcohol content of more than 2.25% [1]), however, was not included in the 1935 vote in order to please the temperance lobby—which argued that because beer is cheaper than spirits, it would lead to more depravity.[2]

As international travel brought Icelanders back in touch with beer, bills to legalise it were regularly moved in the Icelandic parliament, but inevitably were shot down on technical grounds. Prohibition lost more support in 1985, when the Minister of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs (himself a teetotaler) prohibited pubs from adding legal spirits to legal non-alcoholic beer (called "pilsner" by Icelanders) to make a potent imitation of strong beer. Soon after, beer approached legalisation in parliament—a full turnout of the upper house of Iceland's parliament voted 13 to 8 to permit the sales, ending prohibition in the country.

Beer Day

Following the end of prohibition, some Icelanders have celebrated Beer Day on 1 March.[3] Some people may take part in a "rúntur" (bar crawl), with a few bars staying open until 4:00 a.m. the next day.[4] The legalisation of beer remains a significant cultural event in Iceland as beer has become the most popular alcoholic beverage.[5]

See also


  1. "Beer (Soon) for Icelanders" the New York Times, May 11, 1988.
  2. Insight Guides, Jane Simmonds, Tom Le Bas, Brian Bell, Iceland, p.63, 1999 (ISBN 0-88729-176-7, ISBN 978-0-88729-176-0)
  3. "Yet another reason to love Iceland" from the Iceland Tourist Board
  4. Beer Day from
  5. "Iceland Gets the Beer Back" from the Reykjavik Grapevine
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