In Iceland, 'Black Death' Is OK but Beer Is Illegal

Associated Press

Icelanders can drink whiskey, vodka, wine and Brennivin, the national spirit also called "Black Death." Beer, however, is illegal.

The reasons for the ban, which came at the start of the century, have been lost over the years. Now, though most Icelanders have developed a taste for it via a black market, a small but influential abstinence movement argues that beer leads young people to stronger drinks and legalization would increase the nation's total alcoholic consumption.

Prime Minister Steingrimur Hermansson raised the possibility of legalizing the sale of beer last year as a partial solution to Iceland's economic problems. Taxes on legal sales, Hermansson said, could cut the budget deficit more than $21 million.

The issue was taken up recently in the Althing, the North Atlantic island's 1,055-year-old Parliament, but the legalization of beer was lost amid bureaucratic maneuvering.

Opinion polls indicated that more than two-thirds of voters in this Lutheran nation favor legalizing beer. Customers and staff in Reykjavik bars complain about the failure of the Parliament to do so.

'Hypocrisy . . . Cowardice'

"Hypocrisy, double standards and cowardice," growled 27-year-old shop worker Jon Karlsson.

Meanwhile, there remain bjorliki and the black market.

Bjorliki is a non-alcoholic beer that gets its name from the Icelandic word bjor meaning beer and liki meaning imitation. It has always been allowed, and people drink it along with large shots of whiskey or vodka.

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