30 years ago this summer, I attended a meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. I spent two days in endless discussions, and I did not get to see the sights. But there is one thing I remember clearly.
The local organisers insisted in us buying our duty-free quotas on arrival in Iceland. A duty-free shop in the arrival hall was a novelty in itself, but the point was not the hard liquor, but the beer quota. You could choose between two options: A full case, 24 bottles, of domestic lager or half the amount, 12 cans, of Heineken. Heineken was considered far more sophisticated.
The domestic sale of beer was banned. The full strength beer was only available at the airport – in the shops and bars a watered down low alcohol beer was the only option. The paradox was that wine and hard liquor was available.
Pressure to lift the ban built up during the Eighties, particularly when some bars started to call themselves pubs and served low alcohol beer spiked with vodka or aquavit.
On March 1 1989 the ban was lifted. Since then, the Icelandic beer day is celebrated on this date.
I have a suspicion this is just another excuse for binge drinking, the Reykjavik scene is certainly lively during the weekend.
But, over the years, the Icelandic beer scene has evolved, as I observed when I visited last year. The market for imports is, of course limited, and they are
cursed blessed by state monopoly stores similar to the ones in Sweden, Finland and Norway. But there are a few craft breweries selling their beers at home and abroad, and their quality is nothing to be ashamed of. There is an excellent beer blogger. And there is even a beer festival going on this week. In a pub I cannot claim I have first hand knowledge of.
I won’t be at the Sæmundur í Sparifötunum this week. But as this is billed as an annual event, perhaps another year?