Hej Sverige! A Craft Beer Guide for Swedophiles…
As a kid, I remember thinking Sweden was cool. I still remember making a scale model of a Saab Viggen fighter jet with my Dad, and when we put the stickers on it I remember looking at the Gold-on-Blue triple-crown and thinking 'Wow, that's so cool'! There was just something kind of, well, cool about that tre kronor emblem.
It's always a dangerous to fall back on national stereotypes - for instance I've yet to meet a tall, blonde Swede - but one thing is for sure, Scandinavia, and in particular Sweden seem to have given us some of the world's leading thinkers, designers, artists, from Alfred Nobel to Carl Larsson to Ingmar Bergman to Ingrid Bergman (no relation). And with acts like ABBA, The Cardigans, and the Wannadies, the pop music isn't too shabby either (I think we'll just conveniently ignore Europe or Dr Alban, though).
It's also a country of contradictions. From the lakes and forests and pastures of Dalarna and Småland, to the old-world Hanseatic League and Belle Époque charm of Stockholm, to Malmo's quirky mix of modernist and post-industrial architecture, Sweden is firmly in touch with its past, while leading the charge for clean, modern living. In short, Sweden has taste.
Tall and strong and blonde and blue eyed,
Pure and healthy, very wealthy
Sweden, Sweden, Sweden, in Sweden
- Sweden, The Divine Comedy
One way in which Sweden's taste has come to international attention – apart from the Volvo 240, that is - is as part of the Craft Beer revolution. However, while the nation's taste is sometimes seen as a, well, little straight-laced, it has embraced Craft Beer, with all its innovation and healthy disregard for rules, like a long-lost son.
There's always been good beer in Sweden, by which I mean Ok beer. When I first visited Stockholm with a girlfriend* back in the early 00's, the choice was Pripps Blå or Norrlands Guld. I ordered the Pripps – cue much tutting from my companion "Nobody drinksss Prippsss. Ant the Norrlands isssn't much better!" What do I know – it tasted ok to me!
*again, NOT the tall blonde variety
Nevertheless, the World of Swedish beer has moved on in the last 15 years. It seems to be true all-over the world that wherever you find OK domestic beer, then the Craft Beer revolution ain't far behind.
One of Sweden's foremost Craft Breweries – probably the ultimate Swedish Craft Brewery – the ubiquitous Omnipollo combines Sweden's love of great design with its newfound love of great beer.
Their own form of alchemy
Masterminded by artist Karl Grandin, and Master Brewer Henok Fentie, the super-Swedes have created their own form of alchemy, marrying flavours like Noa Pecan Mud Cake, Mango Milkshake IPA, and Blueberry Cheesecake Stout with high-art packaging that ranges in style from 1930s flat design to mystical 1960s psychedelia stopping briefly to check in with a whole 1950s sci-fi aesthetic.
On the other end of the Craft Beer spectrum, Dalarna's Oppigårds Bryggeri is a family run brewery set in pastures and pine forest. This bucolic setting has informed Oppigårds's brewing style – concentrating on big, natural flavours, with an emphasis on sustainable, responsible production.
Pushing the envelope
For those who appreciate innovation without pushing the envelope too hard, there's a profusion of great Craft Brewers to be found across the country. Located an hour north of Malmo, Brewski's signature style is best described as 'fruity'.
Building on a solid foundation of finely-honed, classic IPA flavours, Brewski augment their beers with massive fruit-salad flavours courtesy of frankly indecent amounts of fresh pineapples, mangos, bananas – anything that's lying around in the fruit bowl, really. In this respect the brewery's slogan "Brewski don't do beer. Beer do Brewski" seems particularly apt.
Of course, thanks to the monopoly of Sweden's Systembolaget state-run bottle-shops, the choice of beers available in Sweden's supermarkets has always been limited to light, low-alcohol beers, which are refreshing but never quite hit the spot.
These Folk beers are the inspiration for Dugges's range of light, fruity Sour and Pale Ales with elegant fruit flavours. Of course, no brewer worth his salt is going to stop at 3.5%, and Dugges is no exception. Based in Mölndal, just south of Sweden's second city Gothenburg – no, not that one, you're thinking of the one in the Batman movies - they also produce a fine range of big, barrel-aged beers bursting with rich malts and a satisfyingly generous ABV.
Meanwhile, down the coast in Landskrona on the southwest tip of the Scandinavian peninsula, the Ek brothers, Fredrik, Christian and André, founded Brekeriet, a growing Craft Beer concern that specialises in exquisite wild yeast Sours. In fact, they have cornered the market in Sour ales. What they don't know about Wild Yeast ain't worth knowing!
And it's not just this handful of breweries, the Craft Beer revolution continues to sweep across Sweden. In fact, not just across Sweden but into Scandinavia, and even into the Baltic states, with home-grown brewers springing up in Denmark, Norway, and even Estonia. Sweden's thirst for great beer is really a thing. One thing's for sure, Sweden is about more than just Ikea, Volvo and herrings!
…Impressive, huh? An whole article about Sweden and I didn't mention smörgåsbord once!
Nico HILLARY - Editor
Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash