Happy Bjórdagurinn!

iceland beerIn 1920, the United States, in a fit of prudishness, voted in a total prohibition on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. This was repealed in 1933, to the relief of taxpayers and tax-collectors alike. It happened that in voting for Prohibition, America was following a trend: right about that time, other countries had also voted for Prohibition, after a strong push by teetotalers who blamed alcohol for most social sins.

One such country was Iceland. For the hardy Northerners, Prohibition began in 1915… and lasted until 1989, at least for beer. The horror! Icelanders still celebrate the end of beer prohibition and the beginning of a new demand for beer labels as Bjórdagurinn, or National Beer Day. But in a nation where one in seven residents is a teetotaler even today, annual beer consumption per capita is a modest 9.1 liters… about a tenth of the U.S. total of 28 gallons. (Wait. Who’s drinking all my beer? I never drink that much!)

Icelandic Prohibition was a curious thing, because it began to be dismantled early on… for everything except beer. Wines went down in 1921 when Spain refused to trade for salted cod if Iceland didn’t buy their wines. Spirits followed afterward, since people were ordering them for legitimate commercial purposes in larger quantities than normal, so they could drink the excess. Other alcohol could be had for the price of a doctor’s visit, as it was prescribed for various ailments. But teetotalers drew the line at beer, which they felt was responsible for most of the country’s moral decay. Who knew a little spoiled barley could lead a country to turpitude?

Luckily, beer label makers still had work in Iceland, since something similar to beer was still legal: a 2.25% alcohol near-beer that gave you some of the flavor and little of the effect. It’s still the only kind of “beer” you can buy in Icelandic markets (but we’ll get to that later). It was also the main ingredient of bjórlíki (“beerlike”), a mix of the near-beer and spirits formulated to raise the alcohol level to 5%. This provided the effect of beer, though the flavor was wanting.

Meanwhile, there was some beer available in the country. But mostly, it was either homebrewed (a real your-mileage-may-vary endeavor), or you had to buy it at an international airport duty-free shop, which was a serious pain in the neck. Ironically, the airport beer was made in Iceland, but not for Icelanders!

And, of course, the occasional knowledgeable individual knew about “jacking.” This could be accomplished by putting near-beer in their freezer (or at least outside on a cold night!) to freeze out some of the water and up the alcohol content. Of course, a traditional bottle is insufficient here, since water expands when it freezes. Because that makes bottles explode, you’d need something like a Tupperware container to make the ice easier to remove, and the right freezer labels to mark your jacked beer.

Finally, in 1989, public sentiment forced the legality of beer. March 1, 1989 became the very first National Beer Day, when people countrywide enjoyed big, frosty mugs of pure beer in public for the first time in almost 75 years. Many celebrations were televised, and lasted well into the wee hours.

Even today, 30 years later after the end of Prohibition, there are still some limitations on beer. You can’t just run by the 7-11 or Circle K to grab a six-pack. True beer is sold only in government-run liquor stores called Vínbúðins. But that’s way better than nothing!

We’ll happily help you out with beer labels for your latest Icelandic craft brew, and freezer labels for your jacking process if you can’t get to the Vínbúðin —or any other kind of freezer labels, for that matter. Contact us for a quote!

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