#SwedishChristmas: Julmust, the festive drink that outsells Coca-Cola every winter

#SwedishChristmas: Julmust, the festive drink that outsells Coca-Cola every winter
Chemistry and Christmas helped create one of Sweden's most popular non-alcoholic beverages. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar.

Like glögg, which was featured yesterday, julmust is a beverage consumed mainly at Christmastime in Sweden (except when it's repackaged as påskmust at Easter) and in large quantities.

But while the amount of glögg Swedes drink during Christmas (around 5 million litres) is a lot compared to how much wine they typically drink throughout the year, it pales in comparison to the approximately 50 million litres of julmust they consume during the same period.

It's no wonder the Stockholm Spritmuseum, an institution dedicated to the past and present of alcohol, has given julmust, which it describes as “…in a class of its own as the #1 non-alcoholic alternative”, a place in its exhibition A Spicy Christmas alongside glögg and Christmas beer.

The passion for this very sweet soft drink, which famously outsells Coca-Cola in Sweden at Christmas, originated in the early 1900s, when a Swede named Harry Roberts returned to Sweden from Germany, where he had been studying chemistry.

He brought with him a formula he had developed for a syrup containing hops and malt extract that would form the basis of a non-alcoholic alternative to beer. At a time when Sweden was actively trying to counteract its citizens' excessive alcohol consumption, such alternatives were critical.

In 1910, Harry and his father, Robert Roberts, established Roberts AB in Örebro, and began producing and distributing the syrup as julmust. The syrup was purchased by manufacturers that used it to create and bottle distinct brands of julmust soft drink for retail sale.

For more than a century, the formula for julmust syrup has remained a closely guarded secret of Roberts AB, and countless different brands of julmust have been produced and sold in Sweden through supermarkets and Systembolaget, at Christmas markets, and even at McDonalds. Because each manufacturer has their own way of using the syrup, every brand of julmust tastes a bit different. Some people also insist that the taste of bottled julmust improves if it's allowed to age for a year before drinking it. 

Considering julmust is mainly available at Christmastime, the question may be whether it's possible for most Swedes to keep their hands off this incredibly popular Christmas favourite during the off-season.

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