The country’s first brewery, Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson, was founded in 1913. However, only two years later, a universal alcohol ban took effect in Iceland.
Ölgerðin therefore had to brew non-alcoholic beverages to stay in business, Maltextrakt, a sweet brew from malt and Egils Pilsner, a non-alcoholic beer, which hit the market in 1917.
Although the alcohol ban was relaxed in 1922 with the establishment of the State Alcohol Company (ÁTVR), permitting the import of wines and light alcoholic beverages like port and sherry, beer remained banned.
In 1935, the import and production of strong liquors was permitted and the Icelandic brennivín schnapps, a.k.a. Black Death, was born.
During World War II, Iceland was occupied first by the British and then the U.S. militaries. The soldiers craved their beer and so Ölgerðin came to the rescue.
“When British troops were sent to Iceland in WW II, they expected hardship, but they did not anticipate a lack of beer. And although the Arctic island’s inhabitants were not allowed to brew, sell or drink beer for another 59 years, special provisions were made to make sure the soldiers would get their pint as usual,” as stated on Ölgerðin’s website.
Ölgerðin was granted special permission to brew strong beer and the first Icelandic brand of beer, Polar Beer, appeared during the years of occupation. Later it was sold to the U.S. naval base near Keflavík Airport.
But beer remained off limits to the Icelandic public; the main argument behind the ban being that if beer was permitted, alcohol consumption among Icelanders would increase and create various problems. After decades of debate, the ban was finally lifted on March 1, 1989.
Since then March 1 has been known as Beer Day in Iceland.
The Beer Day’s 24th anniversary will be celebrated across the country today, privately and at organized events.
At the hip Kex Hostel in central Reykjavík, the annual Beer Festival is currently taking place. It kicked off on February 27 and runs through March 2.
For the occasion, the hostel has invited Icelandic and foreign breweries to present their products and production methods at the in-house tavern.
Master chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason of Dill and the in-house eatery, Sæmundur í sparifötunum, has designed a special menu to harmonize with the beer.
Participating breweries (Migration Brewing Co., Mikkeller, Einstök, Vífilfell, Borg, Ölgerðin, Ölvisholt, Bruggsmiðjan (Kaldi) and the hobby brewers of Fágun) will introduce their products and give guests a taste of their latest creations from 5-7 pm today and tomorrow.
The history of brewing in Iceland and abroad will also be presented.
The Beer Day coincides with the larger Food and Fun culinary festival, which runs from February 27 to March 3 in Reykjavík.
Visiting chefs have created special mouth-watering menus using Icelandic ingredients at the capital’s main restaurants.
Tomorrow they will compete for the title ‘Food and Fun Chef of the Year’ at Harpa from 12-15 pm and meanwhile all participating restaurants will present samples of their menus.
A weekend of eating and drinking is coming up… it’s the perfect occasion to celebrate.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – email@example.com