Iceland's Newest Beer Ingredient: Whale

One brewery is experimenting with a whale of an ale—or technically, an ale of a whale. 
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Kristjan Loftsson in the belly of one of his company's whaling ships. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

Iceland doesn't treat cetaceans the way most of the world wants them to be treated. Like Japan and Norway, Iceland has continued to hunt fin and minke whales in defiance of an international moratorium on the practice. It's not a challenge to find a restaurant serving whale meat in the capital city of Reykjavík. With all this in mind, is it really surprising that Iceland's whaling business has recently teamed up with a brewery to produce "whale beer"?

Steðja Brewery

Hvalur, the company managed by "the Icelandic Ahab" Kristján Loftsson, is providing whale meal—a byproduct of processing the animal's meat and oil—to Steðja Brewery to create a limited edition product tied to Iceland's annual mid-winter festival Thorrablot. The beer, marketed as a drink for "true vikings," will only be available from January 24 through February 22. It's 5.2 percent alcohol and is supposedly "healthy" by virtue of containing whale, which is, according to the brewery, high in protein and low in fat. 

Dagbjartur Ariliusson, the brewery's owner, told reporters that whale beer makes sense in the context of Thorrablot and the country's history. For many centuries, he said, they have celebrated this festival by eating "cured food, including whale fat, and now we have the beer to drink with this food." Pickled whale blubber is a traditional Thorrablot menu item.

Like so much else Iceland does with whales, the development is drawing impassioned ire from conservationists and anti-whaling activists. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) society's campaign managers have called the beer launch an attempt "to diversify whale products in the face of almost nonexistent local consumer demand" and "about as immoral and outrageous as you can get." WDC has also gone after Hvalur for "perversely" powering its whale-hunting ships with whale oil.

The outcry probably won't stop tourists from rushing to sample whale steaks and sashimi at Reykjavík restaurants. Even if whale beer doesn't taste very good—because, let's be honest, putting meat of any kind in beer is uncommon and gross—it could, one day, be yet another item on a traveler's bucket list.  

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Svati Kirsten Narula is a former producer for TheAtlantic.com.

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