by Leona De Pasquale
Photo Credit@ Spritmuseum
(*The article was originally published on The Vintage Magazine in 2018)
Recently I went to Stockholm for a long weekend. I am not sure if it was due to the cold weather, my habits or just unconsciously trying to stay professional even whilst on holiday, I found myself constantly in search of a decent wine in the supermarket to go with my dinner, but to no avail, nothing was found. The only thing I could see in any supermarket was terrible-looking non-alcoholic wines or beer. I did come across a wine shop on a Saturday afternoon, but guess what, it was closed at 3pm. Coming from the UK where you can buy booze 24/7, I was in shock. Who would close a wine retail shop at 3 pm on a Saturday?
Then my wine-professional-self kicked in. Suddenly I got it. For years, I have learnt that the Scandinavian countries have government regulated alcohol monopoly in place. Now I realize how it works. The Swedish government operates a monopoly on the alcohol retail sales. Anything above 3.5% ABV will need to be sold through the 430 plus government-owned “Systembolaget”wine shops.
Originally, everything, including the import and export, production and both on and off-trade alcohol sales, was controlled by the government. However, in 1995, when Sweden joined the EU, they were allowed only to retain its retail sales monopoly on alcohol. Therefore, nowadays it’s possible for business to import and sell wines to restaurants directly. But to buy wines to enjoy at home, you will need to go to Systembolaget.
As a result, my trip in Stockholm ended up with only a glass of Spanish wine, three times the usual price I would pay in the UK, from Ribera del Duero in a restaurant. But at least it was really delicious!
It seems like Stockholm might not be an ideal destination for wine travel then. However, to my surprise, I found a little gem in the island of Djurgården amongst all the major tourist attractions. It’s a boutique style Museum of Spirits (SpritMuseum – dedicated to alcoholic drinks, not ghosts). Small it might be but it is modernly decorated and equipped with a tasting room, a bar and a restaurant. I went into the special Champagne exhibition first where you could learn everything about Champagne. Just when I thought that this museum was disappointingly tiny, I turned into the main spirts section and was totally blown away. Admittedly, it is not massive. But I was extremely impressed by the well thought through layout and various aroma pumps that are on display. Aromas of all major spirits such as Cognac, Whisky, Calvados, Bourbon are there for you to sniff. Then more astonishingly, the aromas of many rare ingredients for spirits making, for example, wormwood, which is for making Absinthe is there too for you to smell. Being a wine and spirits educator myself, I have been dreaming of such a ‘classroom’to show students how those ingredients smell like. Apart from the aroma pumps, there are different sections where you can learn about spirits making in an interactive way. Even the sometimes difficult to understand distillation process has been made easier to understand by the beautiful animated film that is on show. In short, this is heaven for people who like to learn more about spirits in a very engaging way.
Apart from the main exhibition sections, there is also a bar and a restaurant called The Dining Room headed by Chef Petter Nilsson who spent 15 years in Paris at the acclaimed neo-bistro La Gazzetta which he co-owned. Delicious ingredient-focused, season-specific Nordic dishes are served here. After learning all about spirits, admiring the seasonal collections, it is definitely a treat to settle down and enjoy a beautiful and nourishing Nordic meal here. Not to mention that the view from the restaurant is picturesque, which is a bonus!
SpritMuseum: Djurgårdsvägen 38-40, 115 21 Stockholm, Sweden.