During Christmas, the Americans drink eggnog. The Chileans drink Cola de Mono. The Lithuanians drink Poppy Seed Milk.  The Icelanders – being Icelanders – mix Malt Extract (a malt-flavoured soda with a tinge of liquorice) with Appelsín (essentially orange soda) to make Jólaöl. Or “Christmas Ale” for those who don’t like choking on their tongues.  It’s a drink more known as “Malt og Appelsín.” 

The right proportions

Malt og Appelsín is such a fixture of the Icelandic Christmas season that philistines can even purchase a premixed can at grocery stores during the holiday season. But be warned. Such an investment is highly controversial. To exercise discretion over the Malt-to-Appelsín ratio in one’s glass is, to some, the very reason why Iceland gained independence from Denmark in the first place.

In other words, the right proportions are essential. 

According to an informal poll conducted on Facebook in 2017, approximately 62% of Icelanders pour the Appelsín first and then the Malt. This prevents uncontrollable fizzing. In an interview with Icelandic media outlet Vísir, graphic designer Haukur Viðar Alfreðsson – addressing the hot-button “proportion” issue – made an apt pop-music analogy. 

“Appelsín is absolutely the Art Garfunkel of my Christmas blend. I’d say that my blend consists of approximately 70% Malt Extract.” 

Simon and Garfunkel are Malt og Appelsín
Appelsín (left) and Malt (Right)

A speculative history

Through the years, many have speculated about the origins of this mongrel tradition. Among them, Guðmundur Mar Magnússon, brewer at Egill Skallagrímsson. Writing on the website Vísindavefurinn, in 2002, Guðmundur Mar traced the beverage’s origins to ca. 1940, when Icelanders took to diluting Malt Extract with soda to eke out the Malt Extract (which was expensive): 

“When Egils Appelsín arrived on the market in 1955, Icelanders likely began mixing it with Malt Extract. It’s reasonable to assume that by 1960 it had become a rather popular tradition.”

Ne’er such a pair

Given how well Malt and Appelsín go together, it is unsurprising that at least one Icelandic bard has been inspired by the blend to put pen to poetic paper.

We were so good together.
We were one.
We were often compared to.
Malt and Appelsín.
… 
That’s how good we were together.

Þursi (1981 – )

It may be my favourite poem ever.

Easily worth a urinary tract infection

In a bizarre Facebook thread from 2014, almost every respondent agreed that if Malt and Appelsín conceived a child, then Malt would be the father and Appelsín the mother.

So if you’re looking to experience an Icelandic Christmas this year, grab a can of Malt and a can of Appelsín and get mixing.

One final caveat: Discussing the drink on Twitter in 2015, Icelandic comedian Sóli Hólm revealed that he had suffered a urinary tract infection on account of over consumption. 

“I learned nothing,” Sóli wrote

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