Saturday, April 14, 2012

Three reasons Swedes LOVE Systembolaget and why they are wrong

OK. Since I have probably already alienated 80% of my readers with my personal sob story, I am now out to alienate the rest by going after that strange phenomenon known as Systembolaget. When people talk and complain about Sweden and socialism and all of its horrors, the only thing that comes to my mind is Systembolaget. Systembolaget is the government controlled liquor store and also the only place you can buy alcohol in Sweden. It is godawful. It should be scrapped. It should be long gone. But for some reason Swedes seem to LOVE it. Here is my rebuttal of all of the common arguments as to why Systembolaget is AWESOME. Because it isn’t. Hate me if you must.

1) Systembolaget has the best assortment of alcohol EVER – If you ever start dissing on Systembolaget, you will hear this one. Systembolaget has every kind of alcohol imaginable. The rest of Europe is totally jealous of all the kinds of things you can buy at Systembolaget because they cannot buy these things in their countries. 

Obviously, you don’t buy a lot of beer. Systembolaget carries every single kind of Swedish beer ever made, but only like 8 different international beers of any given kind. It is miserable. Yes, you can order it. But who orders a few beers a week in advance, just to enjoy? My local New Jersey grocery store has a more international assortment of beer than my local Systemet. And how does the rest of the world survive? In the places I lived there were all kinds of specialty stores – the high end wine store, the cheapy 40 malt liquor shop, the beer hobbyist. And you know what? If what I wanted wasn’t there? I could order it there, too. Imagine that! As for most of the people who argue that Systembolaget has the best assortment ever, dig a little deeper. I have found most of these people still import their own wine and beer from other countries and avoid Systemet whenever possible. WHY?????

2) Systembolaget keeps alcoholism to a minimum – Sweden has a long tradition of alcoholism and Systembolaget keeps those numbers down.

This give you a sense that Systembolaget keeps track of the alcohol you consume or limits it in any way. It doesn’t. The only thing they can do is not sell you stuff when you are very drunk. One of the symptoms of alcoholism is ‘you constantly think about alcohol, where you can get it, and how you can get it.’ Since moving to Sweden, I can tell you I think a lot more about alcohol, because I can’t just run down to the corner store and pick up a six pack when I need one. I need to think about when I can get it and how I am going to get there. I overbuy for parties, keep some in storage, because I find going to Systembolaget to be a real pain. Also, I am one of those people that believes alcoholism is a disease, you can’t stop people who want to drink. They will find a way.

3) Systembolaget makes drinking safer – Because they are the sole provider of alcohol and they are very strict about checking drinking age, systembolaget makes drinking safer.

Yeah right. When was the last time you saw adults sitting around drinking moonshine in the US?  I have never seen it. And in my eyes, moonshine is pretty dangerous stuff. Done wrong it can lead to blindness and disease. But in Sweden, I have seen everyone from teenagers to 60 year old men drink this stuff. Why? Because a bottle of vodka will set you back 30 dollars for a cheap bottle. To me, this is dangerous and stupid.


  1. Very amusing post! :) I also think that due to the extremely high prices of alcohol in bars and clubs, people overbuy and drink excessively at home before they go out or when they come home again!

  2. I think they should get rid of Systembolaget and sell wine and beer in the normal grocery stores. I think that a lot of these "popular lies" have been told for so long that many people actually believe in them.

  3. I don't really drink and have only been to Systemet a handful of times. I have no opinions of my own on it so now I am glad to know yours so I can appropriate them!

  4. Ah, so true. I live in Australia, which is one of the few countries I've visited where you can't get beer at the supermarket (along with Sweden), but we have lots of specialty wine/beer/whatever shops and we're still very strict on ID for buying it.
    It doesn't stop parents and older siblings/friends buying for teenagers.
    Interestingly, our spirits cost almost the same and our beers/wines are overall more expensive than in Sweden, yet moonshine is pretty much unheard of.
    So I don't know what's up with the moonshine, but I agree with all your arguments.
    Mind you, we can't hop in a car/on a ship and get it all cheaper in another country.

  5. Nope, sorry, nope. I personally don't give a flying fuck if someone can find whatever kind of beer, that would be a small price to pay. so that argument is neither a plus nor a minus for me.
    But the thing is: it SHOULD be hard to get alcohol. WA just got voted to get rid of its state store system, I am angry as a bee about that, it is going to suck, kids are going to have an easier time getting hold of booze (it's in the INTEREST of privately owned stores to sell to as many as possible), violence is going to increase (because it has everywhere else) and basically, people are selfish idiots.
    Moonshine, btw, is more a matter of culture than availability/price; I've heard of legit booze (köpesprit) being referred to as city booze, sissy booze, rich people's booze, etc. You're not getting rid of that by allowing alcohol to be bought at any time, any day in a supermarket or convenience store.

  6. Fredrik AnderssonApril 16, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    So on the one hand you're saying that systemet doesn't put any limits on alcohol consumption and on the other you describe how you no longer can pick up a six pack when you need one, which way is it?

    Limiting the availability of alcohol has an effect on consumption. In 1965 medium strong beer (up to 4,6%) was made available in grovery stores and overall alcohol consumption in Sweden rose by 15%. In 1977 they once again limited the sale of beer stronger than 2,8% to Systembolaget and consumption dipped by about 15%. Those percents represent no small amount of death and misery.

    Systembolaget is a compromise between individual freedom and social responsibility.

    Further reading:,-harm-and-policy-approaches

  7. First of all thanks for your comments, I love a good discussion.
    @steelcityanna - Good point. It's been awhile since I was in that age bracket, but I remember friends chugging cans of beer in the toilet to avoid the high cost of restaurant beer.

    As for those who disagree, I have to admit this is a very strong opinion I hold, and while I won't be swayed, it is nice to here some counter arguments.

    @t-anna - this is interesting. As someone who grew up in an area where illegal drugs were easier to get a hold of than alcohol (which was sold at the grocery store, but had strict carding policies) I struggle with making alcohol too difficult to get. I have watched many of my teenage friends fight heroin and meth addictions. Somehow, alcohol seems a lot milder. I also don't think having the regulations keeps anyone from getting a hold of anything it just makes it more convenient. But again, I don't claim to have the answers, I just claim to know that systembolaget is not THE answer. :)

  8. @Fredrik Andersson - fair enough statistics. But alcohol consumption for Swedes has been on the rise for the last decade as we become more 'continental' despite ssystemet. And yes, I claim that alcohol is harder to get, but it doesn't limit my consumption. Instead, as I said, I need to spend a lot of time thinking and planning my alcohol consumption - something that makes me uncomfortable (I grew up with a lot of people in recovery around me, and have always heard one of the early signs of alcoholism is always worrying and thinking about your next drink - I hate trying to calculate and figure out how much booze I need in the house so that if we have guests we haven't run out and so that when I 'feel like having a drink' I don't have to spend 45 minutes trying to get somewhere to get one) getting to my systembolaget is a pain the butt due to logistics.

    As for the EU studies, I am of the belief that the EU lets Sweden keep Systembolaget despite their antimonopoly policy not because of this stuff they keep spouting, but because Sweden is pretty much the only country that takes the EU policies seriously. So this is a pay back.

    Anyways, thanks everyone for the discussion. I always enjoy both sides of an argument. But on this one, I am a bit like a rapid democrat faced with a tea party member :)

  9. jag håller med helt och hållet! Trots att jag är svensk

  10. I am so on your side that I feel I could have written this as is the same for my Swedish born and raised husband. It gives the idea that if you want to enjoy a beer on a nice Wednesday night you must plan since the activity is somewhat illicit and must be controlled by the government because how you could possibly as a reasonable adult be able to make your own choice on when and how is smart time to obtain alcohol.

  11. You are of course entitled to you opinion, you do however seem to be in desperate need of glasses when looking around in the stores, or maybe just a lesson about checking facts, because what you've done with this article is nothing but a severe case of downright LYING.

    Systembolaget has a total assortment of 4933 red wines, 2904 white ones, 308 rosé wines, 1058 sparkling wines, 1298 BEERS and close to 3000 spirits and other beverages/products. Yes, this includes the ones you have to order but they do not account for more than 50% of the above.

    Of the "standard" assortment (not needed to order), ca 90% of all (400+) stores carry at least 900 of these at any given time, regardless of where in the country they are located.

    Of the 1298 different beers 412 are Swedish, i.e. 886 are "international". Again, several you do have to order (ca 3-5 days in advance), but 635 beers are not necessary to order and out of these 277 are non-Swedish beers.

    Lastly, I have lived in Gränna, a small village of less than 3000 inhabitants. The Systembolaget in Gränna is one of the very smallest there is and has one of the very smallest assortments of any Systembolaget in Sweden. At the time I'm writing this they carry 91 beers IN THE STORE, of which 42 are international.

    Please check if you want to verify the stats above, and hey, please make it a habit of ALWAYS checking facts BEFORE publishing stuff from now on.

    Looking fwd to comments.


  12. J - So of 4933 plus 2904 plus 308 plus 1058 plus 1298 different types of alcohol, the average store stocks 900 of those at a given time? Not such a huge percentage. And most of the stores focus on wine. Those with beer focus on Swedish beers with some specialties here and there.

    I stand by my statement. But no, I do not have exact figures as I haven't counted the beer at my local systembolaget.

    But since they switched the type of shop from having everything behind the counter to everything on the shelves there has been a a sharp decline in numbers of all types of alcohol to choose from without ordering.

    No, you cannot find 100 different types of Swedish beer at my local grocery store, but you can find about 91 in my local grocery store in NJ, not a liquor store which usually has more. So I stand by my statement.

    I am not a lier. I didn't name numbers. I stand by the fact that Systembolaget is favorable to Swedish beer companies, and sucks for those of us who want a decent variety of international beers on a regular basis.

    But then again, what can you expect from a company that uses Rockefeller in its advertisements as a spokesperson?

  13. I agree. My solution is to avoid SB, and buy from international stores and ship to Sweden. So much better wine available!

    Get rid of it.

  14. Why is Systembolaget offering more and more Bag-in-box wines? To help people drink less? Or to make money from people who suffers from alcoholism?

    There is a white wine named Zumbali at 139 SEK for 3 liters. If one breaks down these 139 crownes, one gets:
    28 kr VAT (moms)
    20 kr SB's markup
    66 kr alcohol tax (22,07 per litre)
    =114 kr for the state

    That leaves us with 25 kr for the importer, local distribution, shipping, custom fees (if outside EU) and for the actual wine. I would say 3 litres costs around 10 kr from the producer in a country like South Africa. So
    much for CSR... The author works as an importer of wine.

  15. As a Scotsman living in Sweden I couldn't agree more.

    the beer point is best. They have a great selection if Swedish lager but as an ale drinker all lager tastes the same. Their ale selection is woeful.