Did You Know: Prohibition in Iceland

Did you know that beer was prohibited in Iceland until March 1, 1989?

In a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, going into effect Jan. 1, 1915.

In 1921, the ban was partially lifted after Spain refused to buy Iceland’s main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines.

Ban was lifted further after a national referendum in 1935 came out in favor of legalizing spirits.

Strong beer (with an alcohol content of 2.25% or more), 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.

As international travel brought Icelanders back in touch with beer, bills to legalize 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 prohibited pubs from adding legal spirits to legal non-alcoholic beer.

Soon after, beer approached legalization in parliament—a full turnout of the upper house of Iceland’s Parliament voted 13 to 8 to permit the sales, ending prohibition.

Following the end of prohibition, many Icelanders are celebrating Beer Day on March 1. Some people take part in a “rúntur” (bar crawl), with a few bars staying open until 4:00 a.m. the next day.

The legalization of beer remains a significant cultural event in Iceland as beer has become the most popular alcoholic beverage.