- Iceland’s relationship with alcohol
Most Northern European nations are known to be home to people who love consuming generous amounts of alcohol. Iceland is no different, as its residents to enjoy letting their hair down on weekends and holidays with their favorite drinks in hand. Yet, Iceland’s relationship with alcohol is not that straightforward as many of its neighboring countries. Over many centuries since the early days of the first settlers, Iceland has had a bittersweet experience with regards to producing, selling and consuming alcoholic beverages. Many societal and cultural factors have influenced how the country’s residents could or could not enjoy their drinks.
Today, if you are exploring the capital Reykjavik on the weekends it is quite common to see locals partying till the wee hours. You will come across many bars and shops offering alcohol to locals and tourists alike. Whether it’s a festival or any other But the situation was quite different before 1990, as Iceland was subject to strict prohibition till the year before. Prohibition on alcoholic products started in the year 1915 and went on till 1989. It was a movement that had the backing of most Icelanders through a referendum in the year 1908.
At the start of the Prohibition in 1915, the popular vote succeeded in banning all types of alcoholic beverages. This went on till the year 1921 when Iceland was forced to allow the import of Spanish wine. Spain had refused to receive Icelandic fish if the country did not accept its wine. In 1922, the wine was legalized in Iceland and some of its residents could breathe easy. But Icelandic society at large had had enough of the restrictions that deprived them of enjoyment. 1935 saw the ban being lifted from all other forms of alcohol except beer.
Normal strength beer was a banned beverage in Iceland even after all other alcoholic drinks started being produced and consumed. The only beers that could be produced were those having lower than 2.25% alcohol content. One of the main reasons for beer facing this fate was its association with the Danish way of life. This was a time when Iceland was putting all efforts to achieve complete independence from its rulers. Another motivation for targeting beer was that it was easily marketable to the youth of the country due to its affordable price.
During the entire duration of the Prohibition era in Iceland, illegal production, distribution and consumption prevailed. After the ban on beer was lifted in 1989, the country united in celebration once again. Icelanders were so overjoyed with this move that they named March 1 as Beer Day, an occasion that is celebrated widely in the nation today. On this day, the locals embark on a famous bar crawl known as the “rúntur” and enjoy their beverages till 4 am the next day.
- Most popular alcoholic beverages in Iceland
Iceland produces a wide variety of alcoholic beverages that are firm favorites of locals and tourists alike. The best way to explore all of its varieties is by taking a trip to the country and sitting down with your loved ones. Most tourists have heard about the famous Brennivin brand and not much more. Iceland has several unique and interesting alcoholic beverages that are bound to suit the tastes of everyone. Take a look at some of the most famous alcoholic drink options below.
* Icelandic Beer Iceland has several famous beer brands, with the most widely consumed ones being local brews. The country now has a thriving beer culture that attracts casual drinkers from all walks of life. If you are taking a trip to Iceland around Beer Day (or any time), be sure to try out these brews -
* Gull - Egils Gull is a standard lager beer manufactured by the famous Ölgerðin brewery. This popular beer has received the award of the Best Standard Lager Beer in the World at the 2011 World Beer Awards. * Einstock - Einstock, produced in Akureyri, comes in several ale varieties made using assorted Icelandic ingredients. Its variants are produced using distinctive methods and have different tastes and alcohol content. * Viking - Víking Gylltur, Víking Lager and Víking Lite are three of the most adored Icelandic beers from the Viking brand. Vífilfell hf brews these popular Víking variants and a variety of seasonal ones.
Icelandic Whiskey Iceland is limited in terms of whiskey production as there is not an abundance of barley crops due to climate conditions. But even its limited whiskey options are quite amazing and must-try for traveling connoisseurs.
* Floki - Floki is the only whiskey brand of Iceland which produces a famous single malt whiskey loved by locals and tourists alike. It is named after Hrafna-Flóki, the man who gave Iceland its name.
Icelandic Gin Icelandic gin recipes date back many decades, but its very first gin was only produced in 2010. The country’s pot-distilled juniper-based gins are quite popular and the industry is growing fast. Two of the gins you must try include - * Himbrimi - Himbrimi is one of the most famous gins produced by the Brunnur Distillery in Iceland. This Old Tom-style gin has 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) and distinct woody notes. * Isafold Gin - Isafold Gin from Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery is a classic juniper-based gin with a 37.5% ABV. It is an affordable but quality gin loved by both locals and travelers.
Icelandic Vodka Vodka is a popular alcoholic drink consumed across all parts of Iceland. Although the country does not produce varieties its vodkas are created using some natural production methods. * Reyka - Reyka is the most popular vodka brand in Iceland and a winner of the 2011 Vodka Trophy. It is a handmade vodka manufactured with glacial water and geothermal energy.
Icelandic Liqueur - Iceland has various popular liqueur brands that reflect its rich traditions and culture of alcoholic beverages. Icelandic liqueur variants are quite popular in the country and popular with tourists. Some of the top liquor brands are -
* Brennivin - Brennivin is an unsweetened schnapps liqueur and the signature distilled beverage of Iceland. It is a popular choice during most special occasions and has an ABV range of 37.5 - 40%.
* Opal - Opal is a licorice-based alcoholic product with a taste similar to that of cough medicine. It is quite a popular beverage in Iceland and abroad, with an ABV of 40%.
* Topas - Topas is a distinctively Icelandic beverage consisting of sweet licorice and herbs. The description of its taste varies, with comparisons to candy and cough syrup.
* Birkir - Birkir Snaps is a woody and fresh Icelandic snaps made by blending grain spirit and Icelandic birch. This woody and sweet liqueur are best served chilled. * Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps - Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps is an alcoholic beverage made from Iceland Moss that grows in the country's wild regions. It has an ABV of 38%.
- Drinking culture in Iceland
Iceland is a nation known for its cold temperatures and overall harsh weather conditions. The nation’s population depends on alcoholic beverages to beat the chill and enjoy the festivities with their loved ones. Consuming alcoholic beverages is now an integral part of fostering social harmony in Iceland, which was once a country dealing with strict prohibition. A lot has changed since then and most Icelanders now love enjoying their drinks.
Even during the prohibition, many Icelanders resorted to illegally making alcoholic drinks for their private consumption and sale. Till 1989 when strong beer was banned, Icelanders made bjorlíki by adding vodka to Pilsner for bumping up the alcoholic content. Drinking on weekdays was not popular and even frowned upon in Icelandic culture in the mid to late Prohibition era. But when the weekend came, Icelanders drank heavily and united in celebration.
Today, the sale and advertising of alcoholic products are regulated strictly by the Icelandic government. Most grocery stores do not have permission to sell liquor openly to locals or tourists. You may, however, find very low strength light alcoholic drinks with less than 3% alcohol in public shops.
Icelanders tend to drink more frequently towards the end of their week. You will find locals in Reykjavik and other urban centers enjoying their weekends with generous amounts of their favorite food and drinks. The vibrant nightlife of the capital with its many interesting venues makes for excellent places to let one’s hair down. You can observe this, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, when the parties go on till 5 am. As soon as Icelandic citizens reach the legal drinking age of 20, they can enjoy the wide range of local and imported alcoholic beverages.
Drinking in Iceland, like most other countries, has to be done responsibly. If you are a tourist, make sure to not go overboard with your drinking and make sure you behave. Drink driving is strongly discouraged and so is causing chaos in public places. But, you may notice people having drinks out in the open while in Iceland’s cities. Icelanders also love saving up their hard-earned money to go on bar crawls with their friends on the weekends.
Brennivín, also referred to as the “black death” is the beverage of choice for many Icelanders and one that has been firmly embedded in the nation’s culture. It is quite important for washing down generous amounts of (not so appealing) hákarl, or fermented shark during the Þorrablót feast. Reyka Vodka is also gaining fast popularity among Icelanders as one of the preferred alcoholic beverages for cocktails.
- Where to buy alcoholic beverages on your Iceland trip
Icelandic alcoholic beverages often leave their mark on tourists, who are then tempted to buy more. Many travelers love taking Icelandic alcoholic products back home for their loved ones. The first thing to keep in mind is that alcohol will cost you a great deal more in the country. Prices are higher than most of Europe and the USA if you are purchasing from liquor stores and bars across Reykjavik. Alcohol can be equally expensive if you are buying from restaurants.
Travelers who have no budget restrictions can easily grab their favorite alcoholic drinks from bars. But if you intend to save up while having some drinks, it makes sense to visit one of the liquor stores in Reykjavik or Iceland’s other cities. Another great idea is buying from Keflavik Airport, where you are most likely to get duty-free prices. Finding duty-free shops at the airport is quite easy, but there are limits to how much you can buy. For instance, one person can pick up only six units of alcoholic products.
Government-owned liquor stores in Iceland, known as Vínbúð, can be found all around Reykjavik and other parts of Iceland. They do offer alcohol at slightly lower rates than bars and restaurants. These stores do have specific opening and closing hours, which can differ on the weekend. Make sure you are over 20 years of age before attempting to buy alcohol anywhere in Iceland. Do not drink openly on the streets as you might be approached by the police.
Any trip to Iceland can be an amazing opportunity to experience its amazing social life and culture, including its interesting relationship with alcohol. Journey through the bars and pubs of Reykjavik or buy some local liquor to enjoy at your privacy. Whether you are dying to try out the Brennivín or curious about the licorice-based Opal, there is a world of fantastic drink options.
Travel to Iceland during the festive occasions and you will witness the drinking culture at its best. Once a country that had voted to ban alcohol, Iceland has now become an amazing party destination.