Beer in Sweden

SÖ logotypSo you're a beer lover, have decided to visit Sweden but are a little concerned that you won't have anything good to drink. Don't worry! There is beer in Sweden, even very good beer. Here are some facts that will help you find it.

Pubs Rule

The usual place to experience the Swedish beer offerings is probably pubs.

The majority of pubs have chosen to buy beer from one company only, generally one of the two brewery giants Carlsberg and Spendrups. These companies also act as distributors for other breweries, so in a pub sporting the Carlsberg sign you can expect to find brands like Staropramen, Leffe and Brooklyn, in a Spendrups pub you can find Heineken and Murphy's and others.

The more interesting pubs are also buying beer from other suppliers. Your best chance to find Swedish microbrewery beers will be at some pubs in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Lund, but also in pubs such as the Bishops Arms chain in other cities.

Your best method to find a good pub is to brace yourself for some Swedish reading and have a look at the Pub List (Publistan) on this website. Here are some hints to simplify your reading:

The list is obviously arranged by city. If you cannot find the city you are visiting, you are on your own... For each listed pub we show Öppettider (opening hours, should be easy enough to understand), Huvudleverantör (main supplier), Antal fatöl (number of beers on tap/draught/draft, including keg and cask beers), Antal flasköl (number of bottled beers). In the Kommentarer section you might see some beer or brewery names that can give you an idea of what is generally available.

You will find pubs specializing in Belgian beers, American beers, Franconian beers, beers from far-away countries - and some with Swedish microbrews!

There is also a map of Sweden showing the location of the best pubs here.

Pub Rules

All pubs in Sweden are also restaurants. They require a permit to sell beer or spirits or both, and an important condition for the permit is the ability to serve hot meals prepared on the premises.

Sales of beer and spirits must not commence before 11:00. Legal closing time is generally 01:00, but many places close earlier, and a very few in major cities have extended hours.

To drink beer in a pub you must be 18 years old.

At pubs in our list you order your drinks at the bar and you will normally be expected to pay for each order, credit cards are almost universally accepted. If you are planning a prolonged session you may start a tab and pay when you leave. If you plan to have a meal, table service is normal, even for drinks; but some pubs like to do things the British way: you order drinks and meals at the bar and pay there. The staff will tell you which procedure applies.

Tipping is not required, and totally at the discretion of the satisfied customer. Recently, some pubs have started stating on their bills/checks that tips or service charge is not included - hinting that it is expected. We strongly disapprove of this practice and suggest you do not tip at all in such establishments.

At the bar, tipping is uncommon, but if you have received excellent attention and service, a tip of about 2-3 kronor per drink is appreciated. If you want to leave tips for great table service, then 5-10 % of the bill is adequate. The "Moms" amount on your bill is the VAT, not a service charge... If you pay by credit card, it is preferable to leave the tip in cash. If you don't have the required change, you may add the tip on the Extras line on the credit card slip before you sign.

Legal Stuff

Like in most other countries, there are a few laws and regulations concerning alcoholic beverages.

For taxation and other purposes, beer is subdivided in three categories:

class I
"lättöl - light beer", maximum 2.2 % a.b.v.
class II
"folköl - folk beer", maximum 3.5 %
class III
"starköl - strong beer", above 3.5 %

Of the price you pay for strong beer, 20 % is Value Added Tax - for folk and light beer the VAT is 10.7 %. The price also includes an excise duty amounting to 1.78 kronor per liter and percent alcohol by volume - e.g. 4.63 kronor for half a liter of 5.2 % beer. Beer up to 2.8 % is exempt from excise duty.

Restaurants and pubs are required to add a respectable mark-up to the store price - at least 25 %, but normally more.

Class I and II beer is sold where food is sold. You must be 18 to buy class II beer. Pubs seldom offer class II beer, but must offer class I, other low alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages.

Systembolaget

Class III beer is only sold in special state owned Systembolaget stores. There are plenty of them, so buying beer for private consumption is not a big problem. They are open during normal shopping hours 10:00-18:00, some days they stay open till 19:00, Saturdays they close at 15:00. Sundays and holidays they are closed. In many smaller communities where there is no Systembolaget store there is a Systembolaget agency where you can order products to be delivered a few days later.

To buy strong beer you must be 20 (unlike pubs, where the age limit is 18).

Systembolaget stock more than 1,000 different beers from many countries. You can see the whole list on their webside, http://www.systembolaget.se (in Swedish though; click the tab "Finns i butik" and in the "Varugrupp" section click "Öl"). You can also select which store you would like to visit. No stores have all 1,000; in most stores you can expect to find between 200 and 400 beers available for immediate purchase. But you can order any other beer in their list, even a single bottle or can, and you can pick it up in 1 or 2 days. You can also call them ahead to order.

That's about it, unless you will be in Sweden for an extended stay. In that case there is more good news:

In addition to the 1,000+ beers in the standard assortment, Systembolaget also offer another 1,000 or so beers that are stocked by wholesalers and can be requested for delivery to your chosen Systembolaget store or agency. Normally, however, you have to order a full box or case, 12-20 bottles. Delivery can generally be expected in one or two weeks. There may be some regional limitations where the wholesaler will only deliver within their region.

If you are still not satisfied and desperately want some beer that Systembolaget does not provide, there are ways. But no easy ways, so we suggest you forget about it and enjoy what is available.

Compiled 28 December 2013 by Gunnar H Eriksson