Alcoholic beverages in Sweden
Alcoholic beverages in Sweden are as common as in most of the western world. Sweden is historically part of the vodka belt, with high consumption of distilled beverages and binge drinking, but during the later half of the 20th century, habits are more harmonized with western Europe, with increasing popularity of wine and weekday drinking. Wine is now also grown and produced in several parts of Sweden and the southernmost region of Skåne is turning into a hub experiencing a strong growth in number of active vineyards.
Beverages and brands
The main Swedish specialty is brännvin (literally "burn-wine"), liquor distilled from fermented grain or potatoes. Vodka is the highest grade of brännvin, with brands like Absolut Vodka and Explorer Vodka. Brännvin seasoned with herbs is known as akvavit. This is usually drunk as a snaps, also known as nubbe, a small shot glass to a traditional meal (especially pickled herring or crayfish).
Lager beer is the most popular beer, both with meals and in bars. In restaurants and bars it is usually served as a stor stark (literally "large strong"), a glass usually containing 40 - 50 cL of starköl (see below). Lättöl (generally around 2% abv) is very popular in lunch restaurants as for the vast majority of people it is possible to drink one serving of it and still stay below the legal limits for drink driving.
Sweet cider is also common. As of July 1, 2005, new rules established that only fermented juice from apple or pear is allowed to be called 'cider'. Before this change, any fruit-based beverage could be called cider, meaning that what would be considered alcopop in other countries could be sold as cider in Sweden.
Since the Middle Ages, beer was the staple beverage in Sweden. Mead was a common delicacy. Distilling was introduced in the 15th century. Prohibition against production and/or sale of brännvin—distilled alcohol—has been enforced during some periods.
As Sweden was industrialized and urbanized during the 19th century, industrially produced brännvin became more available, and alcohol caused increasing health and social problems. The temperance movement rose, and since 1905, government has a monopoly on sales of liquor. The Swedish prohibition referendum in 1922 resulted in continued sales of alcohol. A rationing system, called Brattsystemet or motbok, was used until 1955. As Sweden entered the EU in 1995, drinking habits became more continental, and regulations were relaxed. Systembolaget introduced box wine and law allowed private enterprises to produce, import and market alcohol, and sell directly to restaurants—though the retail monopoly remained. Consumption of alcohol increased by 30% from 1995 to 2005.
Regulation and taxation
Sweden has a government alcohol monopoly called Systembolaget for sale of all beverages stronger than 3.5% by volume. Minimum purchase age at Systembolaget is 20 years, but 18 at restaurants and bars with proper permission.
Beer is legally divided into three classes. Class I (maximum 2.25%), called lättöl ("light beer"), is sold without restrictions (although shops often set their own age restrictions). Class II (up to 3.5%), called folköl ("people's beer"), is sold in regular stores, but with the minimum purchase age of 18. Class III, starköl ("strong beer", over 3.5%) is sold only in Systembolaget stores.
Beverages are taxed by content of alcohol, more heavily than in most other countries. The tax on vodka (40%) is 200.56 SEK/litre, on Wine (14%) 22.08 SEK/litre and on beer (4.5%) 6.615 SEK/litre (2007). Beer with 2.8% alcohol or less is exempt from tax, except VAT. The VAT is 12% (food tax) for beverages sold in shops having up to 3.5% alcohol, and 25% above that, and at restaurants.
Systembolaget has a strict monopoly status on alcohol sales to consumers in Sweden, except for restaurant and bars, where alcohol can be sold for immediate consumption (bottles must be opened and can't be brought home).
Other companies (producers and importers) can sell directly to restaurant and bars (EU enforced rule). Producers of alcohol, such as wineyards, are not allowed to sell bottles of their products to consumers.
The only exceptions to the monopoly to consumers are export shops at airports, which can sell alcohol to people checked in for a flight outside the EU. Alcohol can not be sold on boats on Swedish waters, but the shop is opened at the border to international or foreign waters.
The import quota from other EU countries is unlimited for personal use. Due to the taxes many Swedes supply themselves in Estonia or Germany. Limited rations of duty-free shopping is allowed on the ferries between Sweden and Finland, provided they dock at Åland, which is an autonomous part of Finland, and has a special treaty with the EU. It is also allowed to order alcohol to be sent by postal package, but Sweden is able to levy taxes on the receiver of such alcohol.
Moonshining does occur, mainly in rural areas. Distilling without a commercial production license is illegal in Sweden, even for personal use, and might result in fines or jail time. The mere act of owning parts of a still is also illegal. 
Restaurants and bars
Alcohol can be sold in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The age limit is 18, though some nightclubs voluntarily require a minimum age at the door above 18 (usually 20 or 23, occasionally up to 27). Alcohol may be served only between 11 AM-1 AM. Municipalities can permit a later closure time, sometimes as late as 5 AM.
Alcohol is only allowed to be sold at bars if they are defined as restaurants, which means they have to offer warm food on location. After 23:00 a simple menu is enough. Restaurants, bars and pubs need permission from the municipality to sell alcohol. Drunk people must not be allowed to enter premises with an alcohol license. People who get noticeably intoxicated while at the premises must not be served more and have to be removed immediately.
The alcohol must be for immediate consumption, meaning that the staff has to open bottles etc. Guests are not allowed to bring alcoholic beverages into the restaurant or out from it. Outdoor areas in restaurants must be clearly separated from the street.
Restaurants must claim payment for every single glass and bottle sold. To have the first glass included in the entrance fee is illegal. It is legal to sell large bottles of hard alcohol to groups, but not after 1 AM.
From the 19th century to 1977 restaurants had to serve warm food when alcohol was sold. Many people bought simple food which they did not eat. It could be as simple as a boiled egg. For known guests who didn't plan to eat it, restaurants often served food other guests have had on the table.
The temperance movement is strong in Sweden, especially in agricultural areas, and often connected with the "free churches" (non-conformists, that is Protestants outside the Church of Sweden). The Straight Edge movement spread among Swedish youth in the 1990s.
- Government Offices of Sweden:Sweden's alcohol policy Archived January 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- Statens folkhälsoinstitut (2008). Alkoholstatistik 2006/Alcohol statistics 2006 (PDF). pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-91-7257-537-0.[dead link]
- Swedish Tax Agency: Excise duties[dead link]
- Tullverket: Importation of alcohol for personal use when travelling
- Swedish Institute for Public Health, March 11, 2005 Archived November 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Riktlinjer för serveringstillstånd (Swedish)
- Alkohollagens regler vid servering av alkoholdrycker