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iceland beerHere at Etiquette Systems, we love making beverage labels of all kinds, including the kinds for beverages containing alcohol. While we rarely get to make labels for exotics like seahorse tonic or deer penis wine (and yes, both do exist), we do make labels for more popular drinks, from vodka to whiskey—including quality freezer labels for those who like to freeze their liquor. We're especially fond of beer bottle labels, because who wouldn't be? We North Americans do love our beers, and in recent decades, craft brews and new brewery endeavors have increased the population of home-grown beer varieties dozens-fold.

Although Icelanders are amateurs compared to U.S. imbibers, who drank an average of 28 gallons of beer per capita (!) in 2018, the hardy people of Iceland put away 2.4 gallons of beer per capita to fortify themselves against the tough environment. Plus, they value their beer enough to celebrate a holiday called National Beer Day: Bjórdagurinn. This fine observance marks the day in 1989 (yes, only 30 years ago) when Iceland's Prohibition against beer—instituted in 1915 in a fit of temperance—finally ended. Many nations (including the U.S.) also underwent Prohibition at that time, but most came to their senses in only a few years. Elsewhere, beer—which has a relatively low alcohol content—was usually legalized first.

Can you imagine beer being illegal for almost 75 years? The very idea is outrageous!

Bjórdagurinn falls on March 1, the day the Prohibition on true beer was finally lifted in Iceland. On that day in 1989, the country celebrated in nationally televised beerfests that continued right up until 4 AM. We have to imagine that in the days leading up to the legalization, beer label makers were just as giddy as the celebrants.

Now, beer wasn't completely illegal during Prohibition, so those who made beer bottle labels weren't completely penniless. Near-beer of less than 2.25% alcohol (about half-normal) had been legal for some time, as hadbjórlíki ("beerlike"), near-beer fortified with spirits to bring it above 5% alcohol. The wine prohibition had fallen in 1921, when Spain refused to trade for Iceland's chief export, salted cod, if Icelanders didn't trade for their wines. 

As logic intervened, spirits also became legal to drink… since people were already importing them in mass quantities for other legal reasons anyway, like for cleaning paint brushes (believe it or not). But the nation's teetotalers, at an unusually high 14% or so, kept real beer off the menu for decades, as they believed it was the chief cause of depravity in the country.

Of course, people taught themselves to brew their own, though they focused on spirits, and you could be prescribed alcohol for some medical ailments. And there was always the duty-free shop at the international airports, especially in Reykjavik, where beer brewed in Iceland but not for Icelanders could be bought by the case.

Also, in a cold country like Iceland, where it freezes most nights except in high summer, fractional freezing or "jacking" is easily possible. You just leave your beer outdoors in sealed, accessible containers, and skim off the ice crystals in the morning. Water freezes more easily than alcohol. Basically, you're just removing the extra water the near-beer maker diluted the beer with anyway. The result? Real beer! You'll need some good freezer labels to help keep things straight, though.

All that's mostly in the past, but don't expect to find real beer in Icelandic supermarkets as you can in most Western countries. There's near-beer there, but that's it. That and the high percentage of teetotalers in the population may explain why we outdrink them, beerwise, by 10-to-1. To get a real beer—and Iceland now has plenty of great brews—residents have to go to a Vínbúðin, a state-run liquor store. This concept may seem a little odd, but it's not unheard of even in the U.S. In Alabama, for example, the state runs the liquor stores.

Meanwhile, we'll be happy to make beer labels for anyone, including Alabama and Iceland. Just contact us for a quote, and we'll see what we can do!

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