Christmas booze gets stuck in the post

Sending alcoholic drinks through the Swedish postal system can be a tricky business - unless you happen to order from the state alcohol retail monopoly, explains Mark Majzner.

A much loved Christmas tradition in many English speaking countries is the sending and receiving of Christmas Hampers. A basket (or a box) containing gourmet food and delicacies such as ham or turkey, fruit cake, mince tarts and a few bottles of wine or Champagne to brighten up the festive table.

Whether you believe in Santa or not, whoever delivers these epicurean treasure chests resists temptation to ensure it finds its way under the Christmas tree in good time.

But try and send some Christmas cheer to friends and family in Sweden and you will realize that it is the Grinch that lives near the north pole, not the jolly fat guy in red and white.

Although completely legal, the three major logistics companies in Sweden – Posten, DHL and Schenker – do not allow alcohol to be collected from their thousands of collection points throughout the country. You can send a box without declaring the contents but mention the word wine or alcohol and you are treated like a Mexican drug baron.

Swedish Post refuses to allow alcohol through its network of 1,600 collection points (petrol stations, grocery stores, video stores, small shops etc) because they say they can not afford to change their systems to enable age checking when people collect the product. Schenker and DHL cite legal restrictions of an unspecified nature.

Swedish Post’s own lawyers have approved the delivery of alcohol and the type of packaging permitted through its handling system but Lars. G. Nordstrom, its CEO, thinks it politically wiser to avoid handling alcohol. Lars recently agreed to forgo his 5.6 million a year salary which has freed up a bit of cash which could be used to implement an age checking system.

However, if you wish to order wine from Systembolaget and have it delivered to one of their 510 collection points around the country (petrol stations, grocery stores, video stores, small shops etc) then Posten will deliver it and you can collect it within 2 days of ordering. These small stores have a system to check the age and sobriety of the recipients, something which seems to be beyond the capabilities of Posten, DHL and Schenker.

Posten, Schenker and DHL will deliver the ingredients required to brew your own beer or distill your own vodka (an old Swedish tradition called Hembränt) so if you want to make your friends and family in Sweden happy this year you should send them a Do It Yourself Christmas Hamper – ham, fruit cake, sack of potatoes and a home distilling kit!

My message for the festive season to all readers is a simple Australian slogan: If you drink and drive you’re a bloody idiot!

So play it safe and sober to keep our roads clear of fatalities this season.

Mark Majzner is an Australian and the founder of Antipodes Premium Wines, a partner of The Local, which operates wine clubs including Australian Wine Club and Fine Wine Society. He also maintains an even flow on the Wine Freedom Weblog.


Swedes warned: Vodka won’t protect you from the coronavirus

Sweden's state-run alcohol chain Systembolaget has advised customers not to buy its spirits as a substitute for hand sanitiser.

Swedes warned: Vodka won't protect you from the coronavirus
Stockholmers queuing outside Systembolaget before Easter. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

One of the best ways of avoiding the new coronavirus and prevent its spread is to wash your hands often with soap and water, according to the Swedish Public Healh Agency.

If you don't have access to soap or running water, hand sanitiser is the next best option, but the product has been flying off the shelves as shoppers try to get their hands on a bottle.

Sweden's state-owned alcohol chain Systembolaget has been forced to put up signs in several of its stores informing customers that alcohol such as vodka and gin does not work as a substitute for hand sanitiser.

“NOT HAND SANITISER,” read the signs.

“We have had a few questions from customers and have put up signs in those stores,” said Systembolaget press officer Therese Elmgren.

“But it is not possible, just as the signs say. The percentage (of alcohol) needs to be higher.”

An alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent is needed for disinfectant to be effective in killing viruses or bacteria. Absolut Vodka, to use an example of a popular Swedish vodka brand, has an alcohol concentration of 40 percent.

However, some of the ingredients are the same, and during the coronavirus crisis Absolut has adapted parts of its manufacturing in order to produce pure alcohol which can be used for cleaning purposes, instead of vodka for consumption. This pure alcohol then needs to be mixed with gel, manufactured separately, to create usable sanitiser for the healthcare sector.