Three more controversial alcohol sale cases for Iceland state monopoly

Following last week’s mudslinging over the banning of Motörhead wine, Iceland’s state alcohol monopoly has been in the headlines again for making controversial decisions — not once, not twice, but three times.

The Icelandic beer Black Death will not be available in Vínbúðin stores because it says “Drink in Peace” on the bottle’s label. The brand’s owner has appealed the decision to the Ministry of Finance.

Black Death beer is named after the nickname for Brennivín Icelandic schnapps and is marketed towards tourists. It has been produced since 1989 for overseas markets and Keflavík International Airport duty free store. Late last year an application was made to bring Black Death to the domestic market through the Vínbúðin shops, but the application was rejected.

The explanation for the decision is that writing on alcohol packaging is only allowed to be about the product, its production and characteristics. This definition apparently precludes inviting people to “Drink in Peace”.

The state alcohol monopoly has also this week decided not to sell this year’s Easter Gull beer from Egils in its current packaging, which they say is too childish for a beer. The bright yellow cans feature a cartoon Easter chick with a quizzical or sarcastic facial expression.

The label design was pre-approved for bottles, but Egils changed its mind and decided to put the beer in cans instead. The extra yellow seems to have been a step too far and the beer has been banned (although it is available in bars, restaurants and at the airport).

The brewery is appealing the decision to the Ministry of Finance and fears losing millions of krónur if the appeal fails; as 100,000 cans have already been manufactured. Easter chicks are appropriate Easter marketing logos for all Easter goods, whether for children or adults, the brewery argues.

Finally the Icelandic authorities’ ban on the sale of caffeinated alcoholic drinks in Vínbúðin stores is being taken to the EFTA European court, suspected of being a breach of European free trade rules.

The drink Cult Shaker used to be for sale in Vínbúðin from 2006, but was removed in 2009 when new rules came into effect setting a cap on caffeine content.

The decision was appealed to the Ministry of Finance, which rejected the appeal. Following that the wholesaler Vín Tríó took the case to the Reykjavík District Court.

The company said the caffeine ban was not built on scientific evidence, saying that there is no evidence to suggest such drinks are dangerous and that the ban is a breach of European law. The Icelandic government responded that it is within its rights to set limits for health reasons on food and drink without breaking any laws. The Icelandic court took no decision, instead sending the case to the EFTA court for clarification. The Icelandic government’s lawyer protested that decision to the Supreme Court of Iceland, which took the side of the District Court and passed the case on to the EFTA.

A verdict is hoped for before the summer.

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