Saturday 2 March 2019

Sore Heads in Reykjavik

Yesterday, as well as being St David's Day and Richard Wilbur's birthday, was also Beer Day in Iceland. I discovered this some time last night on the BBC World Service, where an interesting feature told the story. Iceland, a country which has (or had) its share of teetotallers, brought in prohibition of all alcoholic drinks in 1915 – a ban that was relaxed slightly in 1922 when the Spaniards refused to buy any more Icelandic fish unless Iceland agreed to import Spanish wines. So wine was no longer prohibited. Then, in 1935, a referendum resulted in the legalising of all alcoholic drinks – except, bizarrely, 'strong' beer, i.e. beer with anything more than a paltry 2.25% alcohol content. It was feared that freely available beer would have a deleterious effect on the nation's youth. However, with spirits and wines now legal, the nation's youth – and many of their elders – found ways of getting far drunker than they would have done on beer. Spirits were routinely added to the under-strength beer, and disgusting improvised cocktails of whatever was at hand were routinely drunk – just like my teenage years, when my friends and I would raid our parent's cocktail cabinets, take a bit from every bottle and mix the lot together into a kind of malign punch, guaranteed to make you first very drunk and then very ill. 
  In 1985 the teetotal justice minister banned pubs from adding spirits to beer (how on earth was that enforced?), and that proved the last straw. Eventually, on March 1st, 1989, beer of all strengths was legalised, and prohibition was at an end. Ever since, the anniversary – Beer Day – has been celebrated with epic pub crawls. There will be sore heads in Reykjavik today.

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