The family decided to take a shopping trip to Sweden last Saturday.
I have written about this phenomena before – Norwegians in their thousands travel across the border to buy food, tobacco and booze at European Union prices. It is not a pretty sight.
We headed to the town of Strömstad first. This is situated about twenty kilometers south of the border, and would be a very sleepy town mostly consisting of old age pensioners if it wasn’t for the Norwegians. Now it one of the most affluent communities in the country.
It’s not only border trade. The archipelago of small idyllic islands, on both sides of the border, draws lots of tourists, and there are lots of holiday homes in the area. An hour an a half’s drive from Oslo, two hours from Gothenburg means it is easily accessible fr0m both sides.
We arrived at about eleven, and then the line of cars was crawling very slowly towards the centre of town. There was, luckily, a parking spot right in the centre, and while the others went for an ice cream, I found my place in the back of the line for Systembolaget.
This alcohol monopoly is a Scandinavian way fo tackling binge drinking and other evils. (Have we tackled binge drinking, then? Hardly!)They have various forms in Finland, Sweden and Norway, the Swedes have to go there to buy any beer above 3.5%ABV, while in Finland and Norway this limit is 4.7%.
This means that most quality bottled beers in Sweden is being sold through these stores – as well as thousands of hectoliters of canned pale lager.
Sweden’s membership in the EU means generous personal quotas for alcohol when they travel, which in turn has meant lower taxes on beer, wine and stronger stuff. And the shops close to the Norwegian border are packed every weekend.
Things are organized pretty well, so within fifteen minutes I am inside. I pick up the wine I am supposed to buy and head for the beer.
This shop is nothing like the flagship stores in Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm, where you find long rows of Swedish and imported craft beers. This is where cheap and strong lager is ruling the rooster. But still.
There is North Coast Brother Thelonious. There are porters and a single hop IPA from Oppigård. There is Fuller’s Golden Pride. There is Brew Dog Punk IPA.
If I was a regular visitor here, I would probably start pestering them about the need for a broader range. But as a very occasional visitor, this was quite all right.
Time for lunch, a stroll in the nice spring weather and then on to the enormous supermarket even closer to the border to stock up on meat, cheese etc. A few local 3.5% beers there from the Grebbestad Brewery, but I doubt they are up to much.
In principle, I think you can get any beers generally available in Sweden even at these smaller stores. But you’d have to make a special order some days beforehand, and they’d ship it form a central warehouse. Maybe next time.