Beer has been a long time favourite beverage of people dwelling in the far north of Europe. Vikings are known to have brewed ale and mead, and if their behavioural track record is anything to go by, it does sound like alcohol may have been involved from time to time…
In Sweden, after following a slightly more temperate approach to beer production and consumption over recent decades, there has been a dramatic shift more recently. Craft breweries are springing back up in every region, and there’s a real fizz around the industry today. According to the Swedish Brewers Association, the industry employs over 4000 people.
It’s still the case that drinkers in Sweden have to make an organised visit to the Systembolaget to pick up their favourite tipples that creep over 3.5% ABV – but the ever growing array of artistic labels and hoppy flavour bombs make it an exciting ‘kid in a candy store’ sort of outing.
Of course, you can always bypass the shops and head straight to the source – most established breweries have their own tap rooms (or benches) nowadays, where visitors can sample the latest brew directly from the barrel.
Here are 6 Swedish breweries that are not only exciting Swedes, but also beginning to spread their wings beyond the border.
Höganäs Bryggeri (Höganäs)
In the Southern town of Höganäs, Lukas Ostberg is brewing beers with attitude. Parked outside a garage is an impressive assortment of reclaimed cars and motorbikes, rebranded with the iconic Höganäs Bryggeri logo. Situated within what is essentially the car park of a farm shop development, this beer haven may seem a little rough around the edges.
The beers are nothing of the sort. As soon as step beyond the flaky wooden exterior bar (bench with taps sticking out of it), you’re surrounded by gleaming brew tanks and whizzing dials keeping a close eye on the brewing balance. Lukas’ beers are experimental and innovative, but clearly created with experience. I sampled a barleywine style beer hat had a depth of flavour usually expected from a quality pinot noir.
To sample the rest of the brews whilst remaining only a stone’s-throw away from the brewery itself, the team at Höganäs Bryggeri opened up the Garage Bar restaurant/bar across the car park, which serves Organic burgers, lobster rolls and tacos to perfectly match their American style pale ales.
Råå Organic Brewery (Helsingborg)
Helsingborg’s own Råå Organic Brewery put a large emphasis on the provenance and quality of the raw ingredients used in their brewing process. Their distinctive branding (RÅÅ lettered boldly in white across a slim brown bottle) really catches the eye on the shelves of the Systembolaget, but the beer hammers the message home. This is unrefined, unfiltered yet elegantly crafted beer that gives you a sense of smugness whilst you open your third bottle, knowing that the quality of the beverage is going to stave off the potential for a rotten hangover the following day.
This hangover-buster will allow you to spend more time the following day exploring the stunning surroundings of the Råå Brewery, nestled in a sleepy fishing village on the outskirts of the main city. Sit on a rock, let the waves lap your toes and crack open another bottle of IPA.
Stockholm Brewing Co (Stockholm)
Scandi hipsters and beer tourists will be familiar with Stockholm Brewing Co. You’ll find their product being served in trendy street corner bars in central Stockholm, but their forthcoming onsite taproom is going to be the real place to be seen.
Another passionately organic brewer, they have a range of drinkable and honest beers that are inoffensive and straight up delicious. Perfect for swigging in the Stockholm sunshine. But these guys, one of whom has a background in importing quirky natural wines, like to inject a few principles from Nordic gastronomy into their beers from time to time. Their cellar series allows for some unique experimentation with natural fermentation. Don’t be surprised to find saisons spiked with wild elderberries, wheat beer with rhubarb, or sour dark ales aged in Champagne barrels.
This brewery resides on the cutting edge of flavour and is perfectly aligned with the progressive and pioneering food & drink movement sweeping across the Nordic countries.
Electric Nurse (Gothenburg)
Everybody enjoys a love story. Not many things can make a good love story much better. But one of those things is beer.
Peter and Ida started brewing beer in their kitchen whilst both working full time as an electrician and a nurse, respectively. Outside of work, Peter was already a keen home-brewer whilst Ida was the daughter of one the founders of the famous Dugges brewery, and a self-proclaimed beer enthusiast. Their passions merged and now they run their excellently named ‘Electric Nurse Brewery’ in arguably one of the most beer-centric cities in Europe, Gothenburg.
Still very much a craft beer operation, the pair took advantage of the fact that the state-owned alcohol shop Systembolaget is obliged to distribute beers made by small, entrepreneurial businesses. They were ‘spotted’ and began supplying their creation to the Systembolaget long before they went full time, but nowadays it is their main job.
Their small selection of carefully crafted beers are a staple of the Swedish craft beer scene. Their cans and bottles adorned with colourful, distinctive artwork can not only be spotted in the shops and bars, but also across the numerous beer festivals springing up throughout Scandinavia.
Pang Pang Brewery (Stockholm)
One stand-out characteristic of the modern craft beer movement is creativity. In a crowded market and particularly within a country that limits aggressive selling tactics and over-advertising of alcoholic beverages, Swedish breweries need to work extra hard to be noticed.
Make way for… Pang Pang Brewery. An edgy, quirky, and in their own words ‘unbalanced’ beer producer. The artistry shown throughout Pang Pang’s beer range is impressive. Their contemporary cans look like something belonging to a pop art exhibition at the Swedish National Museum rather than a beer fridge.
The idiosyncratic nature of Pang Pang doesn’t stop at the branding, but affects the beers themselves. One of their signature brews, Bongwater, is given its smokey edge by literally smoking cigars through the barrel, essentially creating a gigantic bong.
Brands like Pang Pang prove that beer has come a long way from being unsophisticated pitchers of amber fizz, and modern drinkers are looking for something far more exotic and thought provoking.
Skellefteå Bryggeri (Swedish Lapland)
The beer scene in Sweden may be centred around the world famous breweries of Gothenburg and the eclectic, boundary punching beers of the capital city, but head towards Swedish Lapland and you will still find thirsty Swedes looking for a crisp, hoppy glassful to enjoy during the midnight sun.
The Skellefteå Bryggeri in the far north of Sweden brews Czech style beers, fused with Nordic flavours and freshness.
Head brewer, Per Lundmark, will admit to being another success story of the Systembolaget arrangement. A beer brewed in the far north of the country may have been missed by so many, had it not been for the deliberate diversification of the shelves, showcasing produce from even the furthest corners of Sweden.
Whilst some of their beer is branded and distributed under another name, if you find yourself able to visit this Northern outpost and try the beers from the barrel you would be able to sample some incredibly balanced brew combined with flavours inspired by the surrounding arctic landscape.