Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to Get Drunk on the Cheap: Alcohol Percentages in Sweden

For some reason I have been spending too much time looking at receipts. A few days ago I noticed the ecological markings on my grocery receipt from Coop, and now I’ve been staring at my Systembolaget receipt.

It’s been a long time since I bought alcohol in the US. Or at least alcohol that didn’t come in drink form straight from the bar. It’s the downfall of having lived out of the country for nearly two years now. My memory fades. I’m getting old. Hell, I’m halfway to fifty now.

Anyway, I do know what it is like to buy alcohol here in Sweden. As a general rule, it is a pain in the ass. Expensive, restrictive, just not fun. But they do have an interesting way of pointing out exactly what you bought. Not just the name of the beer you bought. Not just the price. But the alcohol content as well.

You know, just in case you wanted to know what the cheapest way to get drunk by alcohol content was. You can do some quick math and bam, clearly your best choice is one of the Extra Stark beers. Usually brewed right here in Sweden.

I tend to stay away from those. Because they taste horrible. And I have limits. So when I looked at my receipt the other day, I was staring at a Primator Premium Lager (5%), a Bitburger Premium (4.8%), a Beck’s (5%), and a Zlat Bazant (5%). With this information I could determine just how much bang I was getting for my buck. Or crown as the case may be. I didn’t though. Because that would be weird.

On Systembolaget’s website, you can even search by alcohol content. It’s amazing. For example, if you’re interested you can buy 500 ml (that’s basically one can of beer) of the Norwegian “Dark Horizon” with 16% alcohol for only 149 SEK. That’s the low low price of $19.65. For one bottle of beer.

Or, if you’re feeling like you’d rather not spend that much money, you can buy a 500 ml can of Arboga 10.2, which, strangely enough has 10.2% alcohol. This will only set you back 18.9 SEK. That’s about $2.50. A little more reasonable. But still only one can.

From an institution that is often times defended because it supposedly helps to limit drunkenness, it seems strange to me that alcohol content should be marketed as much as it is. That being said, I am by no means an alcohol connoisseur. Maybe prominently displaying the alcohol content is useful to someone other than the drunk I saw sitting on the curb by the Finland boat vomiting at 11 in the morning.

Welcome to Sweden. Where anyone with a calculator and some patience can figure out the cheapest way to get drunk.

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  1. Or you can just buy cheep Vodka from Germany :-)

  2. I find it hard to imagine that USA doesn't display the alcohol precent in the liquor and beer bottles/cans.

    I believe that it's great ot show the alchol hol precentage on the cans and bottle because there is one thing that i called alcholic poisoning which is letal.
    If you don't see how much alcohol their is in the beer then it's easy to get poisioned.

    I usually get a little drunk after 3 bottles of xider 6& and that makes it easy to know how much you can handle if you try some new alcoholic beverage.

    g'day m8!

  3. alcohol content is listed on cans and bottles in US but not on the receipt.

  4. I think we do note the percentages here in Canada as well on the bottles/cans and in some advertising but not on receipts. I checked our LCBO website( for those interested and I love how they refer to themselves as a Crown Corporation, Long Live The Queen!) and you can search by several categories but not by alcohol percentage. I love the way you put it Hairy, indeed, anyone with a calculator and some time on their hands can get smashed. I had some Pripps before and it was okay but not the greatest. Even my clients from Sweden tell me that they'd rather drink something else. I guess Innis & Gunn is very popular, eh?

  5. @anonymous – and I do.

    @Xenolyse – the list it on the cans and bottles. Not nearly as prominent as they do here in Sweden but it is listed.

    Of course, if you’re drinking to the point that you’re on the verge of alcohol poisoning and need to see the alcohol content printed everywhere in order to avoid that, there are bigger problems.

    @anonymous – yeah I knew it was on the can and bottle, couldn’t remember if it was on the receipt but didn’t think it was.

    @Néstor – yeah for some reason, being able to search by the alcohol content put it over the edge for me.

    And you’re right, as a general rule, Swedish beer is not good. At least all the big breweries. Like Pripps.

  6. Instead of calculating it manually (or not), you can go to one of the many sites doing it for you. Such as

  7. A store (great selection, open on Sundays, unlike Systembolaget or Vinmonopolet - at least that's how i remember them) I frequent recently stocked "Dark Horizon 2.0". Don't really know the difference, but the bottle claims it is 17.5% ABV and it is roughly the same price as you listed in your posting, so I guess that makes it a good bargain. It's a great beer, but for colder weather.

    A Svensk Öl I've really enjoyed is from a brewery called Nils Oscar. I believe it is in Nyköping. It is well worth trying a few of their varieties.

  8. Actually we even have a website that lists the cheapest way to get drunk with a APK value (Alcohol per Crown)so we dont have to calculate it anymore.

  9. Hej ! from 2 fellow Americans in Sweden. Just moving here (Halland region), and have been following your blog -- enjoying it very much!

    I read todays post out loud to hubby who used to live here in the 80s, but could not deal with Systembolaget then (and still now!) -- you hit the nail on the head with your insightful observations.

    Also in relation to yesterdays post, hubby says that "every country has its own insanity" -- when you have a chance, please visit our website

    Thanks again for the laughs!

    PS -- BTW, I see you have an advert for "teach yourself Swedish" (not the Rosetta Stone one) - is it any good ? I need to pick up some of the lingua ? thanks for the feedback; maybe you can drop an email.


  10. I don't think putting the alcohol content on the receipt is supposed to be advertising, it's most likely some government thing to make people think of how much they drink. But clearly it has not helped as some people see it as advertising. ;)
    But if I want a strong beer I drink Westmalle Tripel, not very cheap though...

  11. i'm lost here!
    does anyone know a book store in stockholm i can get "it's not about the ride" in english for god sake :)

  12. like the good ol' days of Steel Reserve...

  13. I don't see the problem. The more information I get the better in my book.

    Regarding Swedish beer though: Swedish beer is generally rather good in my experience, but comparing by country I would say that the Czech brews the best beer on average. At least judging by the admittedly limited sample I've tested. HOWEVER, an American saying "as a general rule, Swedish beer is not good", that's a pot calling snow black. Tap water in the US has more taste than American beer! At least the tap water I've tried. I'll admit that my sample there is rather limited too.

  14. I suppose there are a few negative things to say about systembolaget, but also quite a few good ones.

    On the down side:
    1. It´s hard to get alcoholic beverages any time you feel like it.

    2. It´s expensive.

    3. Monopoly by default is bad.

    On the plus side:
    1. The control of how much i sold and to whom is high.

    2. It seriously keeps drinking down.

    3. All the systembolaget stores are really well stocked.

    4. Really expensive wine and such is actually often cheaper at systembolaget than abraud since they stack such big quantaties.

    I´m really a big fan of our swedish system, even though i sometimes curse the fact that the lines are long on big holidays and that i might have missed the opening hours. The price is really not an issue for me. I don´t make much money, but it´s still easily enough for my purchases on systembolaget. If swedish people were offered prices like those in southern euorope it would be a mess. We drink ourselves silly as it is. Look at finland and what happened when they cut their alco-taxes. And sure you can argue that monopolies are bad, but really I don´t see the problem in this case.

  15. I've found Newcastle is a relatively good bargain, at least compared to US prices... that is to say, they're about equal.

    and the selection of box wine makes my liver sing. That's where the value is my friend. of course its boxed wine, but I'm not above enjoying the equivalent of 4 bottles of wine for 160k.

    As for AC labels, the only time I ever noticed in the US was when drinking Belgian beer or other deliciousness.

    Lastly, American beer is really quite tasty and with a HUGE variety from large, medium, small, and micro breweries. Here it seems that if you want to buy Swedish Beer your options are somewhat limited, but still decently tasty.

    And let me just say, Jacob, because I'm sure it was an honest mistake, that you can insult our politics, you can attack our way of life, you can call our people fat and dumb, but when you disparage our beer, well them's fightin' words.

  16. Hej, I just discovered your blog, and I am so excited to find it! I intend to read every post.

    I'm planning to go to Sweden in December -- in hopes of finding a teaching job -- when I finish my master's degree.

    It looks like you are the guy with the answers to lots of little questions I have. Thanks!

  17. @anonymous – oh that is just glorious.

    @Dave – I’ll have to give that a shot.

    @Niklas – yeah, I just saw that. Absolutely incredible. Amazing. Glorious.

    @CrackerJack – glad you’ve been enjoying it! Systembolaget is rough. And it doesn’t seem like it ever changes.

    I love the comment about the insanity of every country. Because in the end, I think so much of what I experience is just that. The insanity of Sweden vs that of the US.

    Ive had a couple of friends use them for different languages with varying results. One friend has used the Swedish one and found it to work well combined with a class here in Sweden.

    I like your website by the way!

    @anonymous –You’re right, it probably isn’t, but it seems silly to even list it.

    Its tough to get the strong beer that actually tastes good.

    @shuttle – there are a couple of places that have a lot of English books in Stockholm:
    New York Stories in Vasastan and Hedengrens in Sturegallerian. Hope that helps.

    @Stu – classic.

    @Jacob – I think you mean the pot calling the kettle black. But, you’re right, I generalized a bit. But big Swedish breweries are not very good. And the same argument could be made of big American breweries. But there are plenty of good microbreweries in both countries.

    @Jonas – Ive always been curious about the keeping drinking down argument. Because it seems to me that Swedes do a lot more binge drinking than what Ive experienced in other countries.

    I guess I just don’t really buy into the drinking ourselves silly reason. Id like to think that Swedes are capable of taking care of themselves and don’t need the government playing the parent.

    @John – youre right, wine isn’t that expensive compared to the others. And good work with sticking up for American beer.

    @Indie – glad you’ve been enjoying it.

    And good luck with the teaching. Check out on the jobs section, they sometimes have teaching listings there.