Beer Day! – Iceland

March 1


You may be aware of the United States’ 13-year experiment with prohibition back in the, well, Prohibition Era (1920-1933).

But it is a testament to the stout-hardiness of the Icelandic people that they kept up their beer ban for over five times that long: a full 75 years. Iceland was beer-free between 1914 and 1989 — a time period that roughly mirrors the entire existence of the Soviet Union.

The beer ban was finally repealed on March 1, 1989.

Nine months later the Berlin Wall fell, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If you doubt the causal connection between these events, it is a clear indicator that you have not sufficiently participated in the celebration of Beer Day, a ritual which entails consuming your weight in the hop-filled elixir.

Just to clarify, the Icelandic people did have some help during the dark days of prohibition, and from an unlikely ally. The Spanish and Portuguese declared they would not import Iceland’s salted cod unless Iceland imported some Iberian red wine. Thus, wine was legalized while beer remained taboo.

Twenty years after the repeal, Iceland boasts one major brewery for every 100,000 people.

Which means three.

Yes, Iceland has about 300,000 people, less people than the L.A. School District, grades 7 through 12.

Iceland’s low population growth has be attributed to the fact that — in case you haven’t been paying attention — beer was illegal there for 75 years.

How Can I Do My Part to Celebrate this Historic Holiday?

Every year thousands of Americans stand in solidarity with the Icelandic people, commiserating their tragic 20th century beer drought by imbibing a round of Icelandic beer, or whatever beer happens to be nearby.

However, Americans don’t celebrate Iceland Beer Day on March 1, but whenever they get around to it, usually in April.


Late September – Mid-October

This week starts off the world’s largest folk festival and bier-drinking extravaganza.

Oktoberfest takes place, as the name implies, in September. It lingers into October, but tourists arriving mid-month will be disappointed to find they’ve arrived just in time for the dregs. During Oktoberfest the center of Munich metamorphosizes into an amalgamation of Bier Tents, the largest of which–the Hofbrauhaus tent–holds up to 10,000 people.

Germans drink their beer by the liter, not the pint, and refer to the beverage as “liquid bread”. Back in the day, because of corrosive pipes, it was safer to drink fermented alcohol than water.  The quality of the water has improved over the centuries, but the love of bier has not diminished.

Hofbrauhaus Tent
An Oktoberfest Bier Tent

Oktoberfest dates back to the royal wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa of Saxony in 1810.

Ludwig was the son of a French army officer, Maximilian, the brother to the Duke of Zweibrucken.  Due to a string of fortunate deaths, (I love royal European genealogies) Maximilian inherited dukedoms of Zweibrucken and Berg, as well as the titles Elector of Bavaria, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Arch-Steward of the Empire. Maximilian gained the title of King of Bavaria in 1806.

The Crown Prince was married on October 12, 1810, and Munich celebrated with a great horse race five days later. The outdoor event was so popular, Ludwig and Theresa’s anniversary was celebrated annually, the first beer tents appearing in 1818. The people kept celebrating even after King Ludwig was forced to abdicate during the Revolutions of 1848.

His glory would be overshadowed by his grandson. Ludwig II, also known as ‘Mad’ King Ludwig (though historians shun this moniker). The latter was famous for creating some of Germany’s most beautiful castles before his mysterious death in 1886

Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle

The German monarchies were abolished altogether after World War I, but the tradition of Oktoberfest carries on to this day, as Germans require little incentive to consume mass quantities of beer, pretzels and sausages. At last year’s Oktoberfest, 6 million participants poured down 7,000,000 liters of the “liquid bread” and produced approximately 2 million pounds of refuse.

More on Oktoberfest as the celebration continues!

The author and friend at the world-famous Alpine Village Oktoberfest, in Torrance, California