Iceland Brewer Promotes Whale-Testicle Beer. Yes, Really

A beer made with the testes of endangered fin whales? An Icelandic brewery may be drinking too much of its own product.

Whalers cut open a 35-ton fin whale caught aboard a Hvalur boat off the coast of Hvalfjörður, north of Reykjavik, on the western coast of Iceland. (Photo: Halldor Kolbeins/Getty Images)

Jan 13, 2015· 2 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

They’re at it again. The Icelandic brewery that raised conservationists’ ire last year when it released a beer made from the meat, bones, and oil of endangered fin whales has come back with another whale-based brew.

This time, though, it’s upped the ante: The new Hvalur 2 beer is made with whale testicles.

Once again: whale testicles.

(Photo courtesy of WDC)

According to Dagbjartur Arilíusson, co-owner of Steðjar Brewery, the limited-edition beer is being prepared for this year’s Thorrablot festival, a midwinter event celebrating the Norse god Thor. The festival embraces not just the god of thunder and strength but also traditional Icelandic treats: “We eat ram’s testicle, rotten shark, and soured whale fat, as we did in the old days,” he said.

The whale testicles—one per vat of beer—are also being prepared in a “traditional” manner: dried in the smoke of sheep manure. (There are no trees in Iceland, so wood fires are rare.) The result? “An excellent smoke taste,” says the brewery, adding that whale meat makes a “very healthy drink,” helping people “become true Vikings.”

The beer’s other ingredients are fairly normal: pure water, malted barley, and hops.

Here’s the thing: Fin whales are an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Iceland is the only country that still hunts them—a practice it resumed in 2013 after a two-year ban. Icelandic officials don’t agree that the whales are endangered, because their population is at its most plentiful in the North Atlantic.

“Globally, fin whale populations were heavily exploited during industrial whaling,” Kate Wilson of the International Whaling Commission said. “Assessments of population status in the North Atlantic show populations to be in a healthy state.” She said the Icelandic commercial whaling program uses nationally established catch limits, and that the 88 member nations of the IWC remain “divided on the Icelandic hunt.”

Conservation groups, however, are clear on their opinion about Iceland’s whale hunts and about the testicle-brewed beer.

The organization Whale & Dolphin Conservation called the beer “sensationalism” and “a calculated move, not only to dishonor a beautiful and endangered creature by using its most intimate of body parts as a marketing tool, but also sends a clear ‘two fingers’ to the conservation community and those who love and respect whales.”

Arilíusson acknowledged that “we did expect some opposition from environmentalists, but we live in a country that allows whaling.” He called the Icelandic fisheries “self-sustainable and very responsible.” He also admitted that adding meat to beer is an unusual choice: “It is not common at all,” he said. “I think you have a few in the States, but it’s not common here.”

Julia Herz, craft beer program director with the Brewers Association in the U.S., could only identify a few “isolated examples,” including Wynkoop Brewing Company’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout and Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale.

Hvalur 2 is expected to go on sale Jan. 23. The brewery expects to sell 20,000 bottles, about the same as Hvalur 1 did last year.

Ironically, the Icelandic health authorities ruled that last year’s whale-based brew was illegal, and that the whale-hunting company that sold the meat products to the brewery did not have the right to do so. That decision, however, came months after Hvalur 1 had already sold out.