Swedish alcohol policy

Photo: Systembolaget, photo from: https://jkpgnews.se
Photo: Systembolaget, photo from: https://jkpgnews.se

The Swedes do have an alcohol problem. It’s so expensive that no-one can afford it. How can anyone afford to get drunk, let alone become an alcoholic? Swedish alcohol policy will be described in this post, and of course from author’s point of view.

The ‘Systembolaget’ (the system company) is the national retail monopoly which displays wine and beer behind locked glass cases. If you really must buy the horrid stronger stuff, then it’s safely stacked away on shelves behind the counter. No wonder Swedes think it’s an exciting adventure to go into a bright, open, welcoming tax-free shop at the airport where they are trusted to pick up a bottle of booze and not drink it before reaching the check-out.

Disclaimer: parts of this were written close to 20 years ago, and things have changed. Older swedes and expats will connect with things in a way that younger folks may not fully grasp. And, this article does not represent any official statements about Swedish alcohol policy.


Swedish alcohol policy
Photo: Red and white wine; photo from www.today.com

How do you ask for something if you can’t pronounce it? To help Swedes get their tongues around strange foreign names once they reach the counter, the Systembolaget’s brochure used to contain the phonetic pronunciation of all the wines on sale. Coteaux de Languedoc became something like kfitfi de lfing/Sdock which doesn’t look at all drinkable. Today, as fully fledged members of the EU and therefore full-blooded Europeans, Swedes have to manage without this customer-friendly linguistic help. Mind you, if you ask for a Californian wine in fluent English, the chances are the assistant won’t understand. They need a Swedish accent.


Swedish alcohol policy
Photo: Beers; photo from: https://snowbrains.com

Beer in Sweden is classified into four types according to alcohol content. This is perhaps best explained by a Swedish businessman in a Stockholm restaurant who had just been told by his Japanese guests that they would like to drink beer with their meal.
‘In Sweden, we have the beer with different classes. You can have an ‘l&t ~51’ which is a light, easy beer with no alcohol. You can even drink it at lunchtime. Then you can have a ‘people’s beer’, a folk/51, and if you want you can buy that in shops. We also have in Sweden a mellan61 which is a ‘middle-class beer’. Yes, and then you can have another one, a class 3 one too. This is a big, strong one but you have to go to the system company to get it. But not on Sundays.’ I think they then asked for mineral water.


Swedish snaps - Swedish alcohol policy
Photo: Swedish snaps, photo from: http://morgenland.se

If you want to get the Swedes singing then open a bottle of ice-cold snaps – which is the Swedish word for schnapps. Swedes drink snaps, flavored with caraway, aniseed, coriander, fennel and wormwood, with herring (of course) and crayfish.
You’ll please them no end if you, too, were to join in the singing of a ‘snapsvisa’ (a song which accompanies schnapps).

Here is an English transcription of one of the most famous songs.
Grab a Swede and sing along. Skåll!

Hell and gore
Chung hop father Allan Allan lay
Hell and gore
Chung hop father Allan lay

Oh handsome inter hell a tar
Hand hell air inter half an four
Hell and gore/
(Now knock it back in one)
Chung hop father Allan lay


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