March 1 is an unofficial holiday – Beer Day in Iceland! Icelanders celebrate beer once a year because, for the longest time, they couldn’t have any. For the better part of the 20th century, beer was illegal. For some strange reason, alcoholic beverages like vodka, wine, and gin were fine – but beer was off the table. Why? We’re glad you asked.
Beer tours in Reykjavík
- The Reykjavík Beer Tour: “Icelandic beer, local beer history, the best bars in Reykjavik, microbreweries and exploring our beautiful Reykjavik with a fun and knowledgable local guide.”
- Beer School and Beer Tasting (with food): “On the tour, you will get a private guided tour inside one of the most modern microbreweries in the city … a wide array of drinks to try and taste followed by a savoury dinner.”
- Reykjavík Beer and Booze Tour: “… you will experience an expert local who knows how to entertain as well as educate you about the fun history of beer and alcohol in Iceland.”
- The Reykjavík Bar Crawl: “… crawl from one bar to another with a friendly local nightlife guide by your side and experience the absolute best of what Reykjavik’s nightlife has to offer …”
Beer Day: Historical Recap
A quick historical recap. Icelanders voted for (yes, really) a complete prohibition, beginning in 1915. As in other parts of the world, this caused an upswing in bootlegging, moonshining, and business for doctors; doctors could prescribe “dog doses” (medicinal alcohol), under the pretext of curing patients’ dogs, or other pets, of worms. A downside of the prohibition, however, was that it angered Spain.
Why was Spain angry, you ask?
Well, Iceland was selling a lot of bacalao (salted fish, but it sounds better in Spanish) to Spain and they didn’t like it when Icelanders stopped buying wine from them in a convenient quid pro quo. So, after a few years of angry Spaniards, wine was legalised in 1922. In 1935, as moonshining was rampant anyway, the prohibition on hard liquor was lifted. As there was no pressure to allow beer (with over 2.25% alcohol content), however, it just sort of stayed prohibited.
Flash forward to the seventies, beer was considered a fancy luxury item. People going abroad tended to drink nothing but beer for the duration of their vacation (usually starting as soon as they entered the plane) and an actual popular drink was “imitation beer,” an alcohol-free beer mixed with vodka or even Brennivín.
Towards the end of the eighties, things were changing. The Cold War was coming to an end, walls were coming down, and in the spirit of radical changes, the Icelandic Parliament began debating whether to start quenching the beer-thirsty Icelandic nation. With the benefit of hindsight, the discussion in Parliament seems pretty ludicrous; some MPs believed that allowing beer would cause young people to start drinking earlier and that people would be drinking beer at all hours of the day (resulting in them getting drunk at work). One MP even raised her concerns that beer would replace coffee as the nation’s drink of choice.
Despite their concerns, on March 1, 1989, the prohibition on beer was lifted. Needless to say, most Icelanders still drink more coffee than beer and the age when people start drinking has actually gone up since the eighties, not down. Iceland has built an impressive tradition of beer brewing in the years since 1989 and craft breweries all over the country are making quality brews of all types. March 1 has become an unofficial holiday known as Beer Day, which, it should come as no surprise, is celebrated by drinking lots of beer.
Where to Celebrate Beer Day in Reykjavík
If you’re looking to celebrate Beer Day in downtown Reykjavík, consider the following bars.
Skúli Craft Bar (Aðalstræti 9).
With roughly 10 beers on tap, Skúli offers a variety of imported beers in their coolers – like IPAs, pilsners, imperial stouts, lagers, and porters – along with a fine selection of local beers.
Session Craft Bar (Bankastræti 14).
Session is the only craft bar in Iceland with a cooled keg room, which guarantees high-quality beer.
MicroBar (Vesturgata 2).
One of the oldest craft bars in Iceland, MicroBar is located in the cellar of Restaurant Reykjavík so they can be a little bit difficult to find.
Bastard (Vegamótastígur 4).
Bastard serves their own beers, as well as a good selection of beers from other Icelandic breweries.
Kaldi (Laugavegur 20b).
Kaldi Brewery brews around 12 beers, among which lagers, pilsners, English-style ales, Bock beers, porter-style lagers, IPAs, and more. A good first stop of your evening out.
Röntgen (Hverfisgata 12).
Housed in the same building known for Iceland’s first X-Ray machine, Röntgen is a new bar in downtown Reykjavík that has proved very popular since it opened last year.
BrewDog Reykjavík (Frakkastígur 8a)
BrewDog is a hip chain bar with locations all over the world, and since September 2018, also in Reykjavík.
For further information, click here.
Where to Celebrate Beer Day Outside Reykjavík
If you happen to be travelling outside Reykjavík during that most glorious day of the year (Beer Day), there are a few tours that can assist you in your mission to celebrate the “holiday” in style.
- Viking Dinner at the Viking House (South Iceland): “… before you [return to] Reykjavik, you will stop at Ingólfsskáli, which is a Viking lodge. There you will experience a real Viking lodge. Get a taste of Icelandic fish, lamb, goose and Arctic Charr. Wash it down with an Icelandic beer.”
- The Beer Baths (North Iceland): “… soak away the stress of modern life by relaxing in a bath of warm beer …”