All over Sweden, bubbles are rising and bursting in the brew kettles. The interest in higher quality beer may have begun as a trend but has heated up to a vigorous, rolling boil, a true passion for well-composed beer – and the rapidly growing shelf for “special beer” at the Swedish Alcohol Retailing Monopoly is but one of the many illustrations.
The Swedish beer culture emerges from the daily interaction between knowledgeable, passionate consumers with well-developed palates, and skilled, responsive brewmasters who meticulously adjust their recipes to achieve perfection. And it is a nation-wide phenomenon, embracing both city and countryside; wherever you go, the local brewery is never far away.
The beer culture even foams across the border; Swedish export brews compete favorably with the best beers in the world, and are regularly met with international acclaim. Today, Swedish beer culture is recognized across the globe.
Out of the mead horn, to the quality brews of today
The beer culture in Sweden has ancient beginnings. In the Viking age, mead was the celebratory beverage and the favored banquet drink. Though beer was known and brewed it was mostly considered a replacement for drinking water, the quality of which was not always to be trusted. It was not until the late 19th century that brews we would recognise as beer made their arrival, when a modern brewing industry started to form in Sweden with Germany setting the example.
This was the steeping of the grain eventually brewed into Swedish beer culture – and in the years thereafter, the yeast was added to the wort. In the 1970s, breweries were allowed to sell their products directly to bars and restaurants (in accordance with European and US tradition). The change in regulations fostered local trade and inspired new brewers to set up business. New ways of brewing was adopted from the Continent, challenging the lager’s dominance. It was a turning-point for Sweden as a beer nation, and the lesson learned – captured in the Belgian expression Cuisine à la bière – was that good beer could accompany good food just as well as wine.
Over recent decades, the number of breweries in Sweden has basically exploded. Today, more than 240 breweries are operating commercially and the range of high-quality brews on the market is wider, deeper and stronger than ever.
Drinks enhancing the food
The rising interest in beer has also stimulated the art of pairing beer with food. The country’s most influential chefs are celebrating the plain country cooking, food that traditionally goes well with a genuine beer.
Gastronomy is dear to the brewers as well. The kinds of beer that are popular today are well suited to enhance and balance the composed flavors of good food, and culinary experiences are often a stepping-stone to discover new, exciting brews. Modern beer has evolved a long way from the monotone lager of the 70s, and it is now able to complement and mingle with the characteristics of the food just as well as wine. Today, beer can proudly be served with anything from cheese or seafood to juicy steaks, without raising eyebrows even at the fanciest restaurants.
These days, beer is a beverage second to none – not to mead, nor to wine.