American whiskey is gaining Swedish ground–but in what context?

Erik Hasselgärde
Jan 12, 2017 · 4 min read

I’ve been telling you about Systembolaget–the Swedish state-controlled monopoly on alcohol for private consumption. With transparency being a big part of their operations, they continually release the how and why of both projected and actual sales, for anyone to take part of. I’m not sure this is a process every producer or distributor is happy with, but don’t hate the player–hate the game.

In the world we live in today, sales are a big part of the popularity of a product (or lack thereof), and also the other way around is equally true. Looking at how much bourbon is sold by Systembolaget is an important part of telling the story of bourbon in Sweden. Another important point I want to make before we get too deep is that I am in no way judging the sales ability of Swedish spirit distributors. What I am trying to show you is the patterns and behavior of Swedish spirit consumers.

The general consensus among knowers, distributors and brand ambassadors is that bourbon in 2016 is a product segment growing larger in sales in Sweden, slowly but surely. The numbers tell the same story. Some isolated brands stick out, boasting up to 100% sales increases from last year to the one before, while most other brands sales follow the general segment increase.

Most interesting to a non-Swede perhaps, is the top ten brands of American whiskey sold in Sweden in 2016. They are, in order:

  1. Jack Daniel’s
  2. Jim Beam Bourbon
  3. Bulleit Bourbon
  4. Maker’s Mark
  5. Ole Smoky Original Moonshine
  6. Woodford Reserve
  7. Bulleit Rye
  8. John Medley Aged 6 Years
  9. Evan Williams Extra Aged
  10. Blanton’s Gold Edition

Crucial to sales is the distribution of respective brand. All of the above can be readily found in every Systembolaget location. That’s why they sell. The other 70-ish expressions sold right now you have to order in advance and wait for 5–10 days to be shipped to the Systembolaget location of your choosing.

The total sales of American whiskey in Sweden in 2016 adds up to just shy of 300 000 liters. That’s 428 571 700ml bottles. The best way to put that in perspective is to show you this:

What are we looking at? On the left is all the American whiskey (about 100 different expressions) in liters, sold in Sweden by Systembolaget in 2016. Next to it is the 2016 sales of one brand of Canadian blended whisky: Lord Calvert.

Lord Calvert is the best selling whisky in Sweden. I haven’t done any real research into why, but known to many is its reputation. It tells the same story as the best selling vodka in Sweden, Explorer Vodka: our spirits heritage, above anything else, is that Swedes like to get drunk. In the past, not unlike many other nations populations: drinking was for the wealthy a cultural past-time, and for the poor: a necessity to endure. In some ways a truth still today.

To this day, Lord Calvert has a great value of what is informally known here as “APK”: Alkohol Per Krona, an expression to measure bang for your buck, ABV-wise.

I pass no judgment on Explorer Vodka or Lord Calvert, I’m just telling you: if you’re in Sweden and need to get drunk for a low amount of money, they’re your (and our too, clearly) best bet.

But getting back to bourbon, Systembolaget sales statistics list, among other things, the one hundred best sellers in all the spirits categories combined. Explorer Vodka is number one, Lord Calvert is number two. We find American whiskeys best seller Jack Daniel’s at number 39, and the only other one on the list, Jim Beam White Label, is number 50. Fourteen different spirits on their own outsell the entire American whiskey category.

So I think I’ve made the point that, in comparison to certain other spirits, bourbon is not a strong sales category in Sweden. But it is growing. Not many of the others are. Bourbon is taking the place of other spirits, and the whiskey market is slowly becoming bigger and more diverse. We are no way near disrupting the availability of bourbon in the States or anywhere else, so don’t you worry–but hopefully, this will eventually mean a wider range of bourbon to choose from in Sweden.

One last thing! I’d really appreciate it if you show support for this post (by clapping) so other people can find it, and feel free to comment by adding a response! Follow the Northern Bourbon publication to get notified when new bourbon-related articles are published. If you enjoyed this article, please consider following me on Instagram and liking the Northern Bourbon facebook page. Thanks!


Northern Bourbon

An outsider's view of American whiskey

Erik Hasselgärde

Written by

Bourbon whiskey activist. Runs Northern Bourbon.

Northern Bourbon

An outsider's view of American whiskey

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