Swedes and bourbon

The dream of John Wayne or the nightmare of youth?

Jack and Coke

Bourbon and coke, in college many Americans say when asked their first bourbon experience. Most recollections share an untrained (and unwilling) palate, cheap whiskey and lots of it, all in the name of getting real drunk real fast. Considering I’m still wary of certain other spirits of which I’ve had similar relationships with in my beginner days, I’m surprised so many of you recuperate and are now born-again bourbon lovers.

A two ingredient drink in Sweden is called a grogg. I have some memory of the same word (grog) being used in the U.S, but I think the Swedish love affair with it is far greater. So it is not a Swedish invention by any means but it is the foundation of the Swedish way of drinking. Swedish un-aged grain or potato distillate, brännvin (burn wine), is by far the best selling spirit in Sweden with over four and a half million liters sold in the country in 2014. In the typical grogg brännvin is ingredient number one. Number two is almost always non-alcoholic — and the ratio of the two most often determines your manliness. I will say something about gender-based assumptions and preconceptions in coming posts because the drinking world is disgustingly infested with them — but for now: nothing new, nothing interesting. The grogg doesn’t need ice because, with six to eight months of winter and a mild temper to go with it, we rarely need to ”cool down”.

Bourbon and coke is a grogg, though historically in Sweden — one with marginal impact at best. Systembolaget, which is the government-owned retailer, and as consequently the only retailer, lists Four Roses and Jim Beam White Label as their first available bourbon — on the 1st of October 1993. Jack Daniel’s is first listed available on the 1st of May ten years later! (I am waiting on confirmation from Systembolaget if this really is correct. I myself was seven at the time, making me an unreliable source at best). Availability of bourbon to the common Swede before that is unclear, maybe I’ll look into that as well. But if this is correct, you couldn’t even make a bourbon and coke here no matter how bad you wanted it! Breaking into the 500-year-old tradition of brännvin then seems kind of hard, so even though more common these days with the influence of questionable brand ambassadors in rock music — whiskey and coke (even with its equally terrible friend rum and coke) isn’t that common here.

So how do we Swedes first experience bourbon here, if not by bourbon and coke? We kind of don’t… actually. Bourbon is not included in the ’rite-of-passage’-journey to a mature relation to alcohol consumption. Although later in life of Swedish men, something far more sinister happens, as they all without fail…

(pause for dramatic effect)

start drinking single malt scotch.

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