Turning Whales Into Suds: Icelandic Beer Outrages Activists

Sold exclusively in Iceland, the special brew will only be available until Feb. 22.

 (Photo: Mark Carwardine / Getty Images)

Jan 8, 2014· 1 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.
UPDATE: Jan. 13, 2014—3:42 p.m.

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation website, the whale beer was banned "before it ever hit the shelves."

Helgi Helgason, G.M. of the Public Health Authority of Vesturland, where the whale beer brewery is located, said: "The conclusion is that all ingredients used for human consumption should comply with food legislation and originate from recognized suppliers. Hvalur Inc. doesn't have a license to produce whale meal for human consumption; therefore we have to stop this."

Whale and dolphin advocates are up in arms over—and nauseated by—Iceland’s newest beverage: whale beer. Along with barley, water, and yeast, the brew is made with whale meal, the byproduct of processing the marine animal’s meat and oil.

Created by the Steðjar brewery and the fin whaling company Hvalur, both based in Iceland, the product launch is tied to the Icelandic festival Thorrablot, which celebrates the Norse god Thor.

“What is considered culinary novelty to some is really an affront to the rest of the world's moral sensibilities,” says Courtney Vail of Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “The interests of those producing this beer remain in stark contrast to the majority that view whales as beings in need of permanent protection, rather than consumed for momentary pleasure.”

Hvalur, however, is touting the beer as a health food, because “whale meal is very protein rich, and has almost no fat.” No stranger to the wrath of animal rights activists, the whaling outfit was the target of extensive outrage when it produced whale-meat dog food and, on a separate occasion, used whale-oil-based fuel to power the very ships that go out and slaughter more of the mammals.

While the U.S. government has listed them as “endangered” throughout their range under the Endangered Species Act and as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, fin whales are offered no such protection by Iceland. The country’s whaling industry slaughtered 134 fin whales, the second-largest whale in the world, last season.

That does not seem to bother the people behind the questionable suds, who claim that whale beer drinkers will become “true Vikings.”

“We hope Icelanders will like it as we're naturally addressing it to Thorrablot, when people eat and drink various things which they normally wouldn't,” brewery owner Dabjartur Arilíusson told reporters.

The beer will only be sold in Iceland, Arilíusson said, and only until Feb. 22, but that short window did nothing to placate appalled activists.

“This reveals attempts of Icelandic whalers to diversify whale products in the face of almost nonexistent local consumer demand,” says Vail. “A staggering 25 to 30 percent of the meat from Minke whales slaughtered by Icelandic whalers is eaten by tourists visiting the country who often have no idea that their actions are propping up commercial whaling—an industry in decline.”

WDC’s Icelandic whaling campaign leader, Vanessa Williams-Grey, said in a written statement that “reducing a beautiful, sentient whale to an ingredient on the side of a beer bottle is about as immoral and outrageous as it is possible to get.”

Though the brewery claims this is “just a novelty product,” she adds, it is certainly not worth “the life of an endangered whale which might have lived to be 90 years.”