If you want to get an insight into the Scandinavian market for whisky, look no further than the whisky cruises which sail out of Stockholm.
Over a couple of nights the ship sails into waters where the Swedish tax regime no longer holds sway. And over two intense days and nights enthusiasts drink, discuss and debate whisky. Scandinavians drink and the only thing that matches their thirst for whisky is their thirst for knowledge about it.
At the risk of broad-brush generalisations, Scandinavians are as passionate about whisky as anywhere else on the planet and their desire to know the most detailed minutiae ensures a vibrant and lively two days on board the cruise ship. A few hours into the first night and the tasting decks resemble a giant collection of weebles, with drinkers gently wobbling but never falling down.
These are the folk at the heart of the Scandinavian whisky world, and particularly the Swedish one. Sweden dwarfs its neighbours in terms of whisky sales, and provides the beating heart for the region to overcome considerable obstacles which include high prices, limited availability, and a state-controlled whisky market.
Unique whisky drinking
Ingvar Ronde, editor of the annually-released Malt Yearbook, says that Sweden is unique in the way it organises its whisky drinking.
“There are 210 whisky clubs affiliated to the Swedish Whisky Federation with 8,500 members having regular tastings, and a large number of other clubs active without having been registered by the Federation,” he says.
“Sweden has traditionally been a country of spirit drinkers rather than beer or wine. I think the numerous
TV series from the UK and the US, which started in the ’60s and ’70s, encouraged many to change from vodka and schnapps to whisky. Our ties with the Anglo Saxon world are much stronger than those with France, for instance. That’s why cognac is not a big thing in Sweden.”
Change on the horizon
Across Scandinavia spirits sales have always been far stronger than in many other markets and whisky dominates those figures. But that might be changing. Assessing the market from 2009 to 2014, Euromonitor International stated that spirits in general were increasingly being challenged by other drinks categories.
“An increasingly difficult environment will continue to result in major challenges for spirits,” it concluded. “Rising competition from alternative alcoholic drinks categories such as beer and wine with a lower abv level will continue to put constraints on the performance of spirits.
“Throughout the review period there has been a notable drift in terms of volume consumption from stronger spirits to lower-alcohol alternatives, mainly wine, but also more recently towards beer. Furthermore, as a result of very high average unit prices of spirits in Norway, a continued high degree of spirits sales will occur across the border in Sweden and in duty-free establishments. Additionally, duty-free sales will constitute an ever-bigger threat over the forecast period as the number of Norwegians travelling is rising at a steady pace.”