Sweden in a glass

Everyone is familiar with Swedish vodka – even if they don’t necessarily know that it comes from Sweden. You can find ABSOLUT with its characteristic bottle and its silver imprint of L.O Smith, the  king of brännvin in almost every bar in the world – from Mexico to Bangkok. But when it comes to beverages, Sweden has so much more to offer.

The land of spirits

The region of Skåne, located on Sweden’s southernmost point, holds the banner extra high for brännvin. The Swedish tradition of drinking “snaps” dates  back to the 1500s. No herring, crayfish, smorgasbord or Christmas dinner is complete without it and there are countless variations and flavors. When dill and/or caraway are used, it becomes an Aquavit – a legally protected appellation in Europe.

Skåne is also the home of ABSOLUT, which is manufactured in Nibbelöv and Åhus, using solely grain from southern Sweden. But ABSOLUT is not the only vodka you will find in the vicinity. Lately Purity Vodka, made in the a 13th century castle of Ellinge in Eslöv, has been bringing home international acclaim and medals lately. And not far from there you will find Karlsson’s, a vodka made ​​from new potatoes.

On a small island in the strait between Denmark and Sweden you will find the Spirit of Hven. Behind a discrete little door, Henrik Molin and his wife Anja have set up a whole mini-spirits factory. Here they apply their knack for smell and taste to the production of gin, vodka and a range of schnapps. They’re also aging whiskey in the basement beneath the distillery. Spirit of Hven is one of three whiskey producers in Sweden with a product on the market and  more are coming.

Earlier this year Skåne was graced by yet another distillery. At Kullabygdens Musteri, where they have been producing apple juice since 1929, they have started fermenting, distilling and aging the juice into a Swedish Calvados. We’re going to hear more about that once it matures.

Skåne is not the only source of award-winning spirits. Two years ago, Göran Bauerle and Henrik Larsson sat in their hammocks, chewing on straws and wondering what to do with their lives. Today they are world-renowned, having won 2nd place in the Absinthe Masters 2012 in London. All they had to do was to sell their cars and houses, take over an old former church in Bergslagen and order lots of anise, wormwood, star anise, fennel and coriander. Then they started distilling 68% abv Absinthe and christened it Valkyria. Success was inevitable.

Success came just as quickly to the friends behind Hernö Gin. The paint on their little red cottage in Dala had barely dried when they took home more medals than any of the other 49 brands competing in Gin Masters 2013 in London. Only a year earlier did the four friends begin distilling gin in their German copper pot named “Kierstin”.and they have not been resting on their laurels since. They have just produced a new gin matured in juniper casks. The day after its launch British liquor expert David T. Smith wrote: ”Hernö Juniper Cask is a superb spirit and certainly one of the highlights of 2013’s gin releases so far…”


The great wine migration

While the wine industry in Sweden is only about fifteen years old, and Swedes are a long way from being the world’s best wine-makers, we are learning and developing every year. In 100 years I believe that due to global warming and other causes, “Champagne” will move to southern England, and Skåne will become the new “Alsace”. Skåne is even now becoming a wine mecca with numerous vineyards – Köpingsberg, Hällåkra, Arilds, Klagshamns, Kullahalvöns, Åhus Vingård and Vingården Villa Mathilda, just to name a few. But you will also find vineyards in other parts of southern Sweden with a significant initial production – in Halland and Blekinge and on the islands of Gotland and Öland.

Blaxta Vineyard in Flen is Swedens most norhernly vineyard. Photo: Björn Tesch/imagebank.sweden.se

Blaxsta, Sweden’s northernmost commercial vineyard, is located just outside Flen, on the 59th parallel. Inspired by his time in Canada, Göran Amnegård took a former pig farm and turned it into a winery. In what was once a manure pile, Vidal grapes now grow. Using the method for making ice wine, Göran makes an ice wine that has been named one the world’s best sweet wines in numerous international competitions. Göran not only makes wine from grapes – he also lets rose hips remain on the bush until the first frost and turns them into rose hip wine.

In Östersund, in the middle-north of Sweden, you’ll find SAV – a drink you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Every year Peter Mosten samples sap from hundreds of birch trees then lets them ferment in his wine cellar. Using the same method for making champagne, he adds bubbles to create a sparkling birch-sap wine. SAV tastes like nothing else and is best enjoyed together with local delicacies liked smoked reindeer and fish. Not everyone gets to drink a birch tree, but that’s what you get when you stumble upon an old piece of paper in an archive dated 1785 with the title, “birch champagne”. It also helps if you’re both a little curious and crazy like Peter.

Two years ago, just 455 km from the Polar Circle in Brännland, Andreas Sundgren got an extraordinary idea. He had apples and it’s naturally cold there in the winter – so why not do like a handful of Canadians and make ice cider? In naturally cold temperatures, one can use “cryoconcentration” to extract the sweet juices from the apples and ferment them into wine. The juice is frozen in large plastic outdoor tanks and defrosted in the spring. Ice cider has a fantastic taste – it’s like a dry, English cider but with a rich sweetness and distinctive fresh acidity. A perfect accompaniment to an apple crisp as well as a salty cheese. I believe Andreas has cracked the code to Sweden’s future national drink and it has just as much potential as an export product.

What’s on tap?

Right now craft breweries are popping up all over the country and the only place where you can get a brewery education in Sweden is packed. Yippie, we say – today it’s taste, variety and, variety and complexity that matter, which was not at all the case just ten years ago.

Hops growing at Klövsjö gård in Jämtland. Photo: Klövsjö Gårdsbryggeri

Today you can travel around the country drinking locally made beer. In Jämtland there are nine breweries within the region’s borders – almost too many to choose from. Try a beer from Klövsjö Gårdsbryggeri (KGB) or from the newly opened Åre Bryggcompagni, located at the back of the Åre mountain in Huså . In Stockholm you’ll find good beer from Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri, Sthlm Brewing Co., Södra Maltfabriken and PangPang Brewery. If you’re in Gothenburg, order a beer from Dugges, Oceanbryggeriet or Poppels Bryggeri. In Skåne don’t miss a chance to try the beer from Helsingborgs Bryggeri flavoured with spices from Lakritsfabriken (the Liquorice Factory) in Ramlösa. It may sound strange but it’s absolutely delicious.

Juice for grown-ups

All roads seem to lead back to Skåne, popularly known as Sweden’s ”Normandy”. Here apples are cultivated in long rows and there are multiple producers of “must” (our word for the unsweetened, non-alcoholic drink made from pressed apples). There is a clear trend: farmers are investing in quality and variety. There are all different kinds of must made from different apple varieties grown on different orchards, and many are better suited for adults than children. Kiviks Musteri, Sövde Musteri, Öspab, Glorias Äppelgård and Kullabygdens Musteri are just a few producers of apple must with a sweet but refreshing sourness that has become a trendy non-alcoholic alternative to white wine.

Another good example of a quality non-alcoholic beverage comes from the dark forests of Grythyttan in Västmanland. Here Pelle Agorelius makes an excellent substitute for red wine using blueberries. Each 33 cl bottle of Blåbär 100% is filled with the juice of 2,300 handpicked berries. Pelle’s elixir tastes like blueberries, to be sure – but has a lovely, sour astringency and just like red wine, it goes great with a rare steak.

There’s no question that Sweden is becoming a beverage nation. If you’re looking for something exciting and new to put in your glass, there’s every reason to cast a glance in our direction. Here you’ll find the untouched nature that’s the basis of our extraordinary ingredients and out of which innovative entrepreneurs are creating exciting new drinks.

Text by Jens Dolk, well-known Swedish wine writer who has published several books on food and wine. Jens regularly writes for Sweden’s main newspapers and magazines and often appears on Swedish television to offer his knowledge to viewers on Swedish drinks. Jens has a BA in culinary arts and has travelled all over Sweden in search of the very best of what Sweden has to offer in beverages.