Norway has a long and complicated relationship with alcohol.
Today that relationship seems to have stabilized, but still remains regimented.
It is possible to purchase a limited selection of beer, mostly pilsner, and cider from the supermarket, but only between the hours of 9am – 8pm on weekdays, and 9am – 6pm on Saturday.
Sunday is right out.
For anything more serious, maybe a bottle of wine, you have to go to the state sanctioned Vinmonopolet (wine monopoly), of which there are only 261 across the country. There, you can choose from a government-controlled selection of wines and spirits mostly from Europe, but even from as far away as New Zealand.
On top of restricting the sale of alcohol, the government also applies a hefty tax.
Beer is around 30NOK a can ($6 – $8 NZD). A cheap bottle of wine costs around 100 NOK.
This, all to curb drunkenness, and prevent the nation regressing back into a state of alcoholic stupor which reached its peak in the 1870s, where it was estimated Norwegians were consuming around 13 litres of neat alcohol, or approximately 1/2 liter of gin a week. In comparison with today’s consumption rates, this would place Norway at the top of the scale.
Back then, Norwegians were both heavy producers and consumers of beer, wine, and spirits.
However, as consumption increased, there were increasingly more calls to ban this strong drink. In 1919 there was a National referendum, and the public decided the equivalent of 1 – 2 gin and tonics a night was unacceptable, and must be stopped. Prohibition on the sale of liquor came into effect.
Unfortunately, this had further reaching effects than just attempting to curb drunkenness.
Trade agreements between Norway and France ceased.
The were heavy consumers of Norwegian fish, and in return, they expected Norway to buy their wine. But now there was a prohibition in place. This made matters very problematic. The government had to act quickly.
In 1922, one year after prohibition came into effect, the government established a central monopoly which would control the sale of wine throughout the country.
This is the Vinmonopolet.
It decides what can be sold, and sets the price.
Little has changed since then, except for a major breakthrough in 1999 when the Vinmonopolet became a self-service shop.
Today, it resembles an upmarket Glengarry’s specializing in wine, but also offering a selection of spirits, and a few more exotic beers.
So, perhaps unsurprisingly, since leaving NZ, where the number of liquor outlets from just a few suburbs will outnumber what is available in all of Norway, our own alcohol consumption has decreased significantly, in part due to price, and in part due to restricted availability.
Fortunately, brewing beer is legal.
Yesterday, we bought a brewer.
Today we made started our first beer. It’s an English brown ale. In about 3 weeks, 23 liters of beer will be ready for drinking. Not only will it come at a fraction of the price of the supermarket beer, but also will be significantly more bodied than the pilsners we’ve reluctantly become accustomed to.
Soon, I will have access to not only plentiful mountains and fjords, but also tasty, tasty beer. Life is good.