Some of you might reckon that a super-heroine hunting a massive sea beast or a police officer wrestling a ferocious crocodile are great characters to put on a label on a bottle of craft beer.
That's what Jesper Jemtehed and Love Brande, the founders of microbrewery Jemtehed & Brande, based in Jämtland in northern Sweden, also thought. But Sweden's state-run alcohol chain Systembolaget did not agree, regional newspaper ÖP reported this week.
“We want to use our labels to tell a story,” explained Jemtehed, who has run the small business as a hobby with his friend and colleague for the past four years.
“But the police officer got rejected because you're not allowed to put professional categories on the labels,” he told The Local.
The police officer is based on one of Jemtehed and Brande's friends. Photo: Private
Let's pause here to explain Systembolaget to our non-Sweden-based readers. It is the only company allowed to sell alcohol – so anyone wanting to get their product on to the market has to go through them.
Its main job is ironically not to shift as much booze as possible, but to keep overall alcohol consumption down. This includes no extravagant advertising, no two-for-one deals and no overly creative labels.
Jemtehed and Brande found out this included depicting a super-heroine riding an old steam boat across northern Sweden's Lake Storsjön in search of the Loch Ness-inspired monster said to live there – because alcohol firms are not supposed to encourage boating and drinking.
The steamboat label. Photo: Private
“You're not allowed to show risk-filled situations. It is undeniably risky to look for a monster, but it's an extreme situation. I personally think that people understand that it's made-up, you don't hunt monsters in steam boats – not even here in Jämtland,” laughed Jemtehed.
Not even when they turned the boat into a pirate ship – to make it abundantly clear it was a fictitious situation – did they manage to get it past the authority's zealous controllers.
“I do understand why the rules exist. But these grey areas are a bit difficult. I personally think it is somewhat petty and arbitrary that someone sits there and decides what counts as a risk-filled situation,” said Jemtehed, appearing to be amused rather than annoyed.
Love Brande and Jesper Jemtehed. Photo: Private
He and Brande are now waiting to see if their fourth version gets the go-ahead. It shows the super-heroine standing in safety on the beach, looking for the Lake Storsjön monster somewhere in the distance.
“It's not that big a deal, really. They have a framework of rules for how a label should look and we haven't adhered to that,” he admitted. “But it is a bit fun to test the system.”
Systembolaget has not commented to Swedish media, instead referring all queries to Sweden's national retail watchdog, the Consumer Agency (Konsumentverket).
It writes on its website: “Alcoholic beverages or alcohol consumption must not be associated with situation where alcohol consumption should not occur. For example, traffic, sport, pregnancy, school or work.”
“Nor may you claim or imply that alcohol consumption raises physical or mental abilities, fosters education or social, sexual, professional success or solves problems such as loneliness and boredom.”