It’s officially October and I thought I would share a proclamation from our Swedish Law collection that I found back in 2019 while researching a blog post on the Treaty of Fredrikshamn. The proclamation entered into force on October 1, 1809.
The document is titled “Kong.Maj:ts Nådiga Kungörelse, Angående Tillåten Brännvinsbränning ifrån den första instundande October till innevarande års slut” and provided for when and how brännvin be legally produced in Sweden, specifying that production could start on October 1, 1809, and continue to that year’s end, i.e., December 31, 1809.
Brännvin has a long history in Scandinavian culture and is typically defined as any distilled liquor, such as vodka with added herbs. It is believed that brännvin was first introduced in Sweden in the 1400s and that it was initially used as medicine for a number of ailments.
The provisions of the 1809 proclamation allowed for the home production of brännvin for personal use, while brännvin could only be sold and served by the glass (per sup) at designated establishments.
The use of brännvin in the 1800s was much more prevalent than it is in Sweden today; some claim that as much as two liters (about 0.4 gallon or 67 fluid ounces) a week of brännvin was consumed by the average adult Swede during the 1840s.
The Swedish crown clearly found the regulation of brännvin to be important, as a search on the Riksarkivet website (Swedish national archives) for royal proclamations and regulations related to the production of brännvin (brännvinnsbränning) yielded 149 results for the years 1721 through 1861. That averages out to more than one a year. (Searching in historical databases can be like going down a rabbit’s hole, but for those inclined, many historical materials can be found at the Swedish national archives. While researching this post, I especially found the military budget specifications from the 1600s, which lists brännvin, particularly interesting.)
Below is a list of just a handful of events and provisions that were issued or adopted during the 18th and 19th centuries.
- In 1742, certain classes of farmers (hemmans-brukare) were allowed to, for household use, produce brännvin without a fee to the crown. (Kongl. Maj:ts Nådige Kungiörelse, At Alla Hemmans-Brukare tillåtas bränna brännewin af theras förskämde Säd, til Husbehof, utan afgift. Gifwen Stockholm i Råd-Cammaren then 8. Octobris 1742.)
- In 1806, production was limited to only three months out of the year (October through December). That was also one of the important features of the 1809 decree. (Kongl. Maj:ts Nådiga Kungörelse, Om Bränwinsbränningens inskränkning til Tre Månader. Gifwen Hufwudqwarteret Greiffswald den 19 Augusti 1806.)
- In 1855, the crown found that the use of alcohol produced for home use was too great and passed a prohibition on the house production of brännvin. That prohibition has mostly lasted until present times.
- In 1861, the crown announced compulsory government buy-back purchases (inlösen) of distillery products as a result of the ban. (Kongl. Maj:ts nådiga Kungörelse, angående inlösen af enkel bränwinsbränningsredskap. Gifven Stockholms Slott den 15 Februari 1861.)
- In 1917, there was a push towards banning alcohol, but the proposal was never adopted.
- In 1919, the “motboken” (ration book for alcoholic beverages) was launched. It provided rules for how often a Swede could purchase alcohol from the state run Vin & Sprit AB. (Vin & Sprit was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 2008.)
Laws Related to Alcohol Today
I found learning more about the 1809 provisions on the production of brännvin particularly timely as Statistics Sweden, which produces official statistics for Sweden, announced just yesterday, September 30, 2021, that the one consumer product group that saw the greatest increase in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic was that of hard liquor, which saw an increase of 20.8% in 2020 compared to 2019. The figure for all alcoholic beverages was 13%.
Today, there are no specific times of the year designated for when a family may produce its own brännvin, and hembränning (moonshining) of hard liquor is illegal. Specifically, 10 chapter 1 § of the Alcohol Act (Alkohollag (SFS 2010:1622)) provides that:
- produces hard liquor or liquor drinks without such right in accordance with this law, or
- acquires, holds, transports, conceals, or stores alcohol or alcoholic beverages that is illegally produced
Is convicted of unlawful handling of alcoholic beverages, punishable with fines or imprisonment for up to two years.
2 § He who produces, transfers, or possesses a distillery product or part in violation of 2 ch. 1 § 2 mom. is punished with a fine or up to one year of imprisonment. (All translations by author.)
However, the law still provides in 2 chapter 3 § that certain drinks that contain alcohol may be produced in the home by providing an exception for production in the home for one’s own use. Note that such exemptions do not apply to brännvin, as it is not included in the enumerated types of exempt drinks: “wine, folk beer, strong beer, or other fermented alcoholic beverages” (i.e. beverages made with yeast.)
3 § Wine, folk beer, strong beer and other fermented alcoholic beverages may only be produced by he who has been approved as a bonded warehouse owner for the manufacture or processing of such beverages in accordance with § 9 of the Alcohol Tax Act (1994: 1564) or as a tax-exempt consumer.
What is prescribed in 1 mom. does not apply to production in the home for one’s own needs.
That making your own wine is now legal may be considered indicative of how Swede’s drinking habits have changed over the years. According to reports, wine is now the most prevalent alcoholic beverage consumed, with 45% of total alcohol use whereas hard liquor makes up 17% and low alcohol content products (beer with less than 3.5% and cider) together make up 7%.
To this day Sweden distinguishes between alcohol bought at a bar and alcohol bought by an individual in a store. The Alcohol Act requires that a person be a minimum of 18 years old to buy alcohol at a bar or restaurant but that the minimum age for buying alcohol at the Systembolaget is 20 years. (3 ch. 7 §Alcohol Act.) Systembolaget is the shop that holds a state monopoly on most kinds of alcohol. However, alcoholic beverages with less than 3% alcohol content may be sold at grocery stores, e.g. Mellanöl (beer) (2.5%) and cider.
The Swedish Public Health Agency has issued specific guidelines for the production of alcoholic beverages.
For more information about foreign laws on alcoholic beverages see our earlier post on 500 Year Anniversary of the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516 (“Reinheitsgebot”).