Swedish Beer Guide

Most people's knowledge of Swedish beer extends little beyond the beers that IKEA sells just beyond the main checkouts (generally lagers by a brewery called Spendrups). The country have no global brands that have been picked up by multi-national brewers to parachute into supermarkets abroad and the general perception is that the country basically produces a selection of rather forgetable lagers.

The Swedish brewing industry appears to have been struggling against the tide for quite a while. Prior to the 20th century there were a wide range of breweries brewing indigineous beers and British porters were also being imported. A remnant of this time is the Bayerskt style of amber lager which is similar to a Marzen. In 1922 all alcoholic drinks over 2.25% were banned following a referendum. The Swedish brewing association also restricted breweries to selling within their local areas, thereby creating small monopolies. This lead to a prolonged bout of mergers and acquisitions leaving most breweries owned by a handful of companies and there was even talk of the state taking over the brewing industry.

Sweden's move into the EU has lead to a less harsh regime. Beers stronger than 3.6% are only available in bars or in state liquor shops called Systembolaget. The Systembolaget have a number of branches with reasonable opening hours in Stockholm. In some you have to browse the beers on sale in glass cabinets before writing down the numbers of the ones you want and getting a cashier to get them for you. It's a bit like a Argos off-licence. The prices at Systembolaget are fairly reasonable given the general prices of food and drink in Sweden. Weaker beers can be found in supermarkets. The Swedish beers you'll find in supermarkets are generally lattols (light ales) which are versions of the main Swedish lager brands with a strength between 2% and 3%. There are also low-alcohol versions of foreign beers such as Staropramen.

Most lagers you'll find are the same bland fare you will find in other countries. The Hell beer from Jamtlands seemed to pack more punch than most. In common with most Scandanavian countries you will find quite a few porters on sale. The most famous is the Carnegie Stark Porter, now brewed by Carlsberg, which is gassier than an English porter but tastes good an is an interesting variant on the style. For a while this was only available on perscription as a way arond the licensing laws. There is also a weaker version of the Carnegie Porter available in supermarkets. In the Systembolaget you will also finds some strong imperial stouts such as the Slotsbryggeret which has great range of flavour in it.

Breweries manage to cover most styles of beer with English ales, American IPAs and Belgian Weiss beer all available. Seasonal beers are also popular. The Christmas beers called Julbrygd are generally dark fruity beers whilst summer beers called Paskbrygd are generally amber malty brews.

The best bars to seek out in Stockholm appear to be in the south island of Soderhalm with Akkurat and Olver Twist both stocking a very wide range of beers. Akkurat also stocks hundreds of whiskies if you fancy something stronger to end the night with. The prices in bars are significantly higher than the Systembolaget but aren't as bad as the common perception of requiring a second mortgage to buy a round.

Five Swedish Beers To Try -

1. Spendrups Julbrygd: Swedish Christmas beer. A dark lager with a large but shortlived head. Gentle flavours of malt, fruit and liquorice fade into a gentle flat watery aftertaste. Very light and easy to drink despite it being over 5%. Goes well with a smorgosbord (or even better a festive julbord).

2. Carlsberg Carnegie Stark Porter: Tan head, dark body and moderate gassiness. This Swedish porter packs the expected bitter coffee grounds taste with a slight biscuit note round the edges. Similar to Carlsberg Carl's Porter but with more of a dry bitter finish.

3. Slotsbryggeriet Imperial Stout: Dark 9% abv stout with a faint tan head. Chocolate on the nose with a fruity bitter taste with a hint of sweetness in the finish and a gentle gassiness underpinning it all. Has elements of an abbey quadrupel whilst retaining the classic, almost soy sauce, elements of an imperial stout.

4. Gotlands Wisby Weiss: Swedish wheat beer that wants to be like Hoegaarden and does a good job of it. Good balance of spice and citrus with a heavy but clean mouthfeel. Gassier and more bitter than Hoegaarden which gives it a distinctive charm.

5. Skebo UPA: Smooth English style ale with a wet soapy hop taste and a pleasant bitterness. Laid back session fare. A hint of dry dark chocolate on the finish.