Monday, May 2, 2011

Drinking in Sweden – It's a Numbers Game

Do you know how much alcohol is in the beer that you drink? If you do – you probably are in Sweden (or perhaps Utah?). Or you really pay a lot of attention to your beer.

I like beer – a nice Corona or Weissbeer in the summer or something dark and rich in the autumn or winter. When I lived in the States I would often grab a six-pack during my weekly grocery store trip and keep it in the fridge for the week, having the occasional beer or offering it to guests.

But since moving to Sweden, I've needed to give a LOT more thought to my beer purchases – more than I really feel I should need. See, at first I just grabbed a six-pack from the grocery store. Until one of my Swedish friends commented 'Oh, that's not beer.' That was news to me, because it looked like beer and tasted like beer. But no. This was 'near-beer.' This beer had only 3.5% alcohol in it.

OK. So all of a sudden I started paying a lot more attention to how much alcohol was in the beer I liked. Most had about 4.5% occasionally one or two had 5.5%.

But I did start wondering about how much everything cost – did I want the biggest bang for my buck? Did I want flavor? Did I want the inconvenience of having to deal with Systembolaget? Did I want the calories?

All I really wanted was a nice six-pack. Which is how I found myself last week nursing a 3.2% Corona in my backyard. Because I couldn't be bothered to head to the liqour store on the other side of town. Because I just wanted a nice beer in the sunshine.

As someone who enjoys the occasional drink – but doesn't like being drunk – I find the hardest thing about the Swedish alcohol bearacracy is the amount of time I have to spend thinking and figuring out how/when to get my alcohol. It feels like I am underage again trying to figure out how to get some Boones.

And I will admit that in researching this article I was surprised to find that most American Light beers only have a tiny fraction more alcohol than Swedish 3.5% beer. And that 4 states in the US have similarly bizarre alcohol laws – selling low-point beer (3.2%).


  1. The US seems to have a much larger selection of light beer and then of course not talking about alcohol percentage but amount of calories. The Swedes are much more obsessed with alcohol content and amount than calories. If you don´t drink here you are either pregnant or something else is wrong with you. Well personally I prefer wine so I am not a huge consumer when it comes to beer.

  2. I cannot even tell you how many conversations are had in the Hemborg house about this. I am all for just having a grocery store bought beer for the regular occasion, my husband originally thought I was being crazy but has started to see where I am coming from.

    Luckily where we will be living first they have a fairly accessible systembolaget and the items are not behind plexiglass so I am sure I will be there for wine at least!

  3. I think the percentage was originally printed so that people should be able to calculate when it was safe to drive again.
    But now it's become a selling point instead in itself.