New rules prompt surge in liquor licence applications

Applications for liquor licences have skyrocketed in Stockholm following a change in licensing laws that took effect at the start of the year.

New rules prompt surge in liquor licence applications

Usually, the licensing authority in Stockholm gets around a hundred applications a year, but since January they have already received over fifty.

“We have no idea whether this will change when the novelty wears off or if it will continue like this throughout the year, “ said Anders Häregård, head of the licensing authority in Stockholm, to news agency TT.

According to the new rules, the food served on the premises must be “cooked or in other ways prepared”, but doesn’t necessarily have to be served hot.

The change allows cafés, sushi restaurants and salad bars to acquire a liquor licence, something that was prohibited under previous rules.

In other parts of the country there is also an increase in interest.

“We have had a lot of queries from sushi bars and cafés but so far we haven’t seen an increase in applications, “ Per-Eric Gällblad, head of the licensing authority in Malmö, in the south of Sweden, told TT.

Other novelties include catering companies being able to obtain a liquor licence and wine tastings being allowed at fairs and at local vineyards.

But getting a licence isn’t necessarily easy under the new rules. Since the beginning of the year they stipulate that the applicants have to pass a test on Swedish alcohol laws in order to qualify.

And this test has proven very difficult, according to Häregård. Out of 40 applicants, only one was successful at the first attempt, he told TT.

Due to the poor results, the Swedish National Institute on Public Health (Folkhälsoinstitutet), the authority responsible for the test, will review the questions.

According to statistics from the Institute, the number of licences has increased since the 1990s.

Today municipalities regulate licence granting, a fact that has been criticised by Swedish temperance movements, calling for it to be centralized.

The new licensing laws were meant to come into effect by July 2010, but after discussion with the EU commission they were postponed until January 2011.

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Why alcohol-free beer is having a moment in Sweden

Almost one in every ten beers sold in Sweden is alcohol-free, and it's young people in cities who are the biggest consumers. So what's driving the popularity of the booze-free beverage?

Why alcohol-free beer is having a moment in Sweden
Young people in cities are driving the trend for more alcohol-free beer. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad / TT

The popularity of alcohol-free beer is growing fast in Sweden, thanks to technical progress which has improved both the quality and variety of the beverage. It was the drink category that saw the biggest rise in sales in Sweden during 2018, with a 41 percent growth, according to figures from the Swedish Brewers Association.

“We see an increase in all areas; [state-run alcohol monopoly] Systembolaget has increased its sales, restaurants now have more than one variety and the beer selection in supermarkets [where only drinks with an alcohol content below 3.5 percent may be sold] has become noticeably more interesting to consumers,” the association's CEO Anna-Karin Fondberg said.

Swedish brewery Spendrups, one of the major players in the market, has seen a 30 percent increase in sales of alcohol-free beer since 2018, and last year was a record year.

“It's a trend in society that we're turning to alcohol-free products more and more, but I think that more than anything it's about the taste,” commented Spendrups head of press Rose-Marie Hertzman.

“There is now a really good alternative for those who for some reason want to abstain from alcohol, and that has not always been the case. When we manufacture alcohol-free beer, we first make a strong beer [with high alcohol content] and then take away the alcohol, so you keep all the flavours,” said Hertzman.

Making beer free from alcohol is a complicated and expensive process, requiring manufacturers either to cut off the fermentation process or remove the alcohol afterwards. Alcohol is a flavour carrier, but modern techniques mean that it's no longer the case that alcohol-free beer means a flavourless drink.

Anna-Karin Fondberg of the Swedish Brewers Association agrees that product development has been important for the increased interest in alcohol-free beers.

“Swedish breweries got in there early and put a lot of resources into development, and it's paying off now. Consumers are choosy and alcohol-free beer today is a high quality product,” she said.

While the major breweries have played a part, a large number of microbreweries have started up over recent years, and helped draw attention to the wide variety when it comes to beer. This has meant that there are no longer only alcohol-free lagers, but also IPAs, ales, and porters. 

The biggest market for alcohol-free beer is young people living in Sweden's major cities, and as alcohol-free beer has risen in popularity, sales of low-alcohol beer or lättöl have fallen. Since 2018, more alcohol-free beers have been sold than lättöl, which has long been a popular choice for lunch and the only alternative outside Systembolaget's opening hours, and is most popular with middle-aged men.

Another of the reasons for booming sales of alcohol-free beer could well be an increased interest in healthy eating and drinking habits. While healthy food and exercise have long been important to Swedish consumers, and this has been reflected in sales figures within those sectors, there appears to be increasing attention paid to drinks and particularly alcohol.

“I think people want to drink different things at different occasions. We see in our surveys that many people don't only drink alcohol-free beverages, but earlier when someone for some reason didn't want a beer with alcohol, they would turn to water or soda,” said Fondberg.