Prestonpans Music & Ale Festival
Bonus 'GothPoints'

Coming Week  Events

Chef's Menus & Wines

The  Future
Conference Centre
Exhibitions at the Goth
Fowler's Real Ales
CAMRA and English Heritage Award
Function Bookings

Sporting Sponsorship
Jug Bar Services

July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



Barga Twin
Shop Online

News & Events

Site News

Licensing and Temperance


ALIKE in Sweden, in Norway, and also in Great Britain, great efforts have been made for years past by active supporters of the Gothenburg System to prove that any increase in drunkenness in the countries where that system is in operation is due, not to the failure to control effectively the sale of spirits, on the lines laid down, but to the increasing consumption of beer; arid on this ground persistent demands are made by the Bolag or Samlag parties that they should be granted a monopoly of the sale of beer akin to the control they now exercise over the sale of native spirits.
In support of these contentions and demands good use has been made of the following figures, showing the average annual consumption of beer in Sweden per head of the population for the periods stated : 1851-1860,10-5 litres ; 1861-1870, 11-0 litres; 1871-1880, 16-8 litres; 1881-1890, 21-8 litres; 1891-1895, 27'6 litres; 1896-1900, 33'4 litres. One certainly gets here evidence of a substantial increase in the consumption of beer, but it would be still more interesting if one knew to what extent that increase was directly due to the greater restrictions put on the sale of spirits. If the one be the effect of the other, and if the increased drunkenness be due to the increased consumption of beer, then the Gothen-burg System has merely caused a diversion from one set of drinks to another, and its success as a temperance measure becomes still more doubtful than before. My own view of the matter, however, is that the talk about beer being a main cause of drunkenness in Sweden and in Norway is very much exaggerated, and is due mainly to an attempt on the part of supporters of the company system to evade responsibility for the weaknesses of their own particular scheme.
To begin with, while it is certainly true that the consumption of beer has increased in Sweden (with which country I will deal first), it has not attained to anything like abnormal proportions as compared with the consumption per head in other countries. This is shown by the following table, which I take from the ' International Statistics' of Mr, Gustav Sundbarg, an eminent Swedish authority:

I find, further, that the tendency of late years in Sweden has been distinctly in the direction of brewing lighter and still lighter beers. The Swedish Lager beer, which commands a large proportion of the total sale, contains only about 4 per cent, (weight) of alcohol; and Pilsener, which shares with it in popularity, ranges from 3-50 to 3-80 per cent, of alcohol. Modifications of the same beers, known as Lagerdricka and Pilsner-dricka, have, the former 3 to 3-4 per cent, of alcohol, and the latter aboiit 27 or 2-8 per cent. Still another malt beverage in common use is known as Svagdricka, and this has only 1*80 per cent, of alcohol (weight). In Sweden no duty is paid on beers containing less than 2^ per cent, volume, or 1-80 per cent, weight of alcohol, and not brewed with more than 6 per cent, of extract. ( In England the limit recognised by the Excise is 2 per cent, proof spirit, which is equal to about 1 per cent. of alcohol.)
From the Swedish official statistics in respect to the production of different kinds of beers I get the following figures:
Porter ... 54,853 hectolitres.
Ordinary beers of all descriptions ... 1,293,316 hectolitres.
Lagerdricka or Pilsnerdricka ... 183,892 hectolitres.
Svagdricka ... 1,675,506 hectolitres.
Now it is evident from these facts and figures that by far the greater part of the malt liquors consumed in Sweden have a very low alcoholic strength, and I must confess I do not quite understand how the Bolag party in Sweden, engaged in distributing among the people native brandy with an alcoholic strength of over 40 per cent., can attack the distributors of beers having a small percentage of alcohol, and accuse them of being the cause of drunkenness, following up this accusation by demands that the beer purveyors should be brought under the control of the native brandy purveyors in order to prevent them from doing any further harm !
What, I found, really happens, especially in Gothenburg city, is that men first of all go to the dram-shops, where (following up various drinks during the day) they get their two glasses of raw spirit, swallow these off at a gulp each, and then proceed to a beer-shop (there is always one in the neighbourhood of a Bolag bar), where a few bottles of beer may very well settle their case. The intoxication that follows is thereupon attributed to the beer ! I gained a good insight into the procedure one Friday evening in Gothenburg. Going to a Bolag bar at 6.15, I stood watching the people till 7, when no more branvin was served. How many hundreds of workmen came up to the counter in that time, put down their money, swallowed off their liquor* and then went out again, I cannot say ; but hundreds there were, and, inasmuch as it is an admitted fact that 5,000 glasses of branvin will be served at one of these bars on a busy day, the reader need not think I exaggerate. I noticed that many of the men had a difficulty in walking even as they entered, and at least 5 per cent, had evidently
already had as much liquor as was good for them, though the attendants were far too busy to notice the exact condition of each person able to stand erect at the bar as he put down his money. The maximum allowance per head was two glasses ; but I noticed one man who was seated at a table with a comrade put his own two glasses of branvin, and also one of his companion's glasses, into a tumbler, add thereto about a tablespoon-ful of mineral water, and pour the whole lot down his throat. Having thus got their last drink of branvin for the day, a considerable number of the Bolag patrons swelled the crowd in the beer-shop near at hand, with such results, in the case of a certain proportion, as one can imagine; though to which particular type of liquor their final possible insobriety should be really attributed 1 leave the reader to decide.
One further learns in regard to this question of beer consumption in Sweden that it is a matter not only of the alcoholic strength of the beer, but the conditions under which the beverage itself is drunk. When the Swedish labourer has a bottle of beer, and a large one by choice—a small bottle he regards as scarcely worthy of his attention—he raises the bottle to his mouth and pours out the contents so that they will run straight down his throat, just as though he was pouring from one vessel into another. A gentleman in Gothenburg told me he had even seen a workman put two small bottles to his mouth and empty them simultaneously, the objection to a small bottle being thus overcome. A labourer will think nothing of imbibing four full bottles, in the way described, in the course of fifteen or twenty minutes, and this might very well follow on such drams of branvin as he had been able to get from the different Bolag bars during the day. The Swede, in fact, is a great believer in mixed drinks. It is quite common for him to order at the bars either one or two glasses of branvin, and also a drink of small beer, pouring them down his throat in rapid succession—the briinvin first. Hardened topers^ who want an especially strong drink, will mix together branvin, cognac, and Riga balsam, and empty the glass straight off. This is known in Swedish as ' sla'cka af,' which might be translated into English as 'damping down the fire'!
The crusade against beer inspired by the Bolag party in Sweden had the effect, in Gothenburg itself, of leading to the new regulations under which a considerable reduction was effected at the beginning of 1906 in the number of small shopkeepers selling beer for consumption off the premises. From inquiries I made 1 learned that at first these regulations resulted in a decrease of about 10 per cent, in the consumption of beer in Gothenburg, and it is assumed that people who could no longer buy bottled beer bought more of the bottled branvin, in the sale of which practically no restrictions (except that not less than a litre can be bought) are practised. But now that the people are finding out the other shops where beer can still be purchased, the consumption, at the time of my visit, in September, was rapidly reverting to its normal proportions. The main effect of the regulations, therefore, was in the prohibition of sale in houses which the police regarded with suspicion, and the transfer of custom to other houses in better neighbourhoods. In Norway there is still less reason than in Sweden to attribute any increased drunkenness to increased beer-drinking, the higher duties— imposed in the interests of the revenue—having made beer too expensive a drink for the ordinary worker. In fact, the average consumption of beer per head of the population in Norway was less in 1904 than it had been in any year since 1872. It reached a maximum in the period 1896-1900, when the annual average was 20'3 litres per head, and from that time it steadily declined to 20'0 litres per head in 1901, IT'S in 1902, 14-0 in 1903, and 13-1 in 1904. Concurrently, also, with this diminution in quantity, there has been a steadily increasing tendency in Norway to brew lighter beers, containing the smallest possible percentage of alcohol, consistently with the need of assuring the maintenance of good condition in a country where due regard must be paid to the difficulties and delays of transport. ' The human body,' Said one Norwegian brewer to me, in the course of conversation on the subject, 'could not contain enough of the beer brewed by my firm to make a man drunk.'
The conclusion at which I arrived as the result of my investigations into this particular branch of the question was that, although a certain amount of drunkenness may be directly due to beer-drinking—especially as followed under Swedish conditions—the campaign now being actively directed against beer by representatives of the company system is largely inspired by what is nothing less than trade jealousy towards a rival drink, and by the desire of municipal monopolists to add to the profits they already secure from the native brandy traffic those which might also be obtainable from a control of the supply of beer. The whole tendency is to form a huge Municipal Liquor Trust, which, while professing to maintain the purely philanthropic purposes with which the system originally started, is much more concerned to-day in securing the right to handle the profits. At present the independent sale of beer stands in the way of complete monopoly. So the ' company ' leaders raise their cry that the drunkenness which prevails is due, not to the consumption of ardent spirits, but to the imbibing of what are mostly light beers, and they have evidently made up their minds not to rest content until they have got the beer traffic also under their control.

Back Back to top