Scandinavia Says Skål to Alcohol-Free

DryScene Blogstress DryChick travels to Stockholm (that’s her glass of alcohol-free white wine in the photo!)

Traveling is hard when you can’t bring your own alcohol-free beverages. You are at the bartender’s mercy, and often in a language you can’t speak. So I tend to pick vacation spots these days based on the food so I don’t get distracted.

Stockholm had been on my list of destinations for some time, and with a very strong coffee culture (or “Fika”) I was optimistic that I’d have something to drink there.

I really wanted fresh fish, so I followed a recommendation and visited Wedholms Fisk. It was packed with a well-heeled clientele and I didn’t have a booking, but the hostess said they had a small table in the very back if I didn’t mind being near the kitchen. The food and ambiance smelled so good I jumped at her offer, only to find that my table stood right next to the door to the wine vault, which meant a view of all those lovely expensive wine bottles enclosed in glass. I also had to move my chair out of the way every time a server needed another bottle of vino, and there was a lot of chair moving (and wine drinking) that night.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at my luck.

I always had a glass of sauvigon blanc or chablis or even a rosé with fish, so I feared this seating arrangement was going to be a bit painful. When the waitress came by for yet another bottle, I jokingly asked her if any of them were alcohol-free. I was absolutely delighted (more like gobsmacked) to learn that the restaurant actually had alcohol-free wine behind the bar. The chilled Torres Natureo dealcoholised muscat went amazingly well with my Turbot filet.

Much to my surprise it seemed that every restaurant I went to that weekend in Stockholm had alcohol-free wine or beer on the menu. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I was able to order alcohol-free red with my steak at Zink Grill and a sparkling white with my sole at Stockholm Fisk. At the Fasching jazz bar, I discovered the 0% San Miguel cerveza that I had read about but hadn’t yet tried, and it was sweet and refreshing.

If the Swedes can do it, why not everyone else?!

The abundance of alcohol-free options was surprising because I’ve always heard the Scandinavians know how to drink. But unlike the Brits, who have no problem drinking pints for lunch (often outside, regardless of the weather), the Scandis have a more closeted drinking habit, and therein lies the problem.

A Swedish man next to me on a plane once told me that his nation’s drinking problem started more than a hundred years ago, when workers of the industrial era would get paid in pints. They would literally drink their wages. It lead to the Temperance movement and strict control of alcohol sales through a network of government-owned stores called Systembolaget. The government also banned alcohol advertising and levied a huge tax on alcohol as a deterrent.

So that means when people can afford to drink these days, they drink to get pissed. And they tend to drink at home where it’s cheaper.

That has some Swedes like Jonas Kullgren looking for ways to draw people out of their homes to enjoy a night out without alcohol, much like we do at DryScene.

He is one of the founders of Oslo, Norway-based SoundMind, which describes itself as a think tank for disruptive thinkers who want to solve structural challenges in society. Think Burning Man meets Davos.

“We don’t have a political agenda, we don’t oppose or endorse anything, we just want to be a part of questioning existing principles and dogmas,” he said in an interview.

Their first project was creating the SoundMind Sober Club, which they considered a social experiment. They wanted to know: Can Norwegians dance without alcohol? Can we meet sober? Can we kickstart a new way of clubbing?

“We have been watching the debate on alcohol and drugs in Norway for some time, and we came to the conclusion that this is a very touchy subject,” he said. “You cannot be sober and you cannot be to drunk. At the same time, there is a kind of stigma if you don’t drink. Something is wrong if you don’t want to drink alcohol when you are out and about.”

They coordinated a sober club night that won rave reviews and was featured on TV and in newspapers there.

“The fact that a small thing as a nightclub without alcohol made national news shows how difficult our relationship with alcohol consumption is,” he said.

He thinks younger people are trending back toward the sober “straight edge” culture because they see how their body and mind can be damaged by alcohol.

SoundMind is planning another club night on Nov. 19 called “Remember Tomorrow” at the The Villa Dancing Club in Oslo. Sponsors such as Egge Gård, Tine, RedBull, Feelgood Factory, Moods of Norway. A tasting of non-alcoholic beverages will precede the club night, lead by one of Norway’s best sommeliers, Liora Levi.

“It’s going to be massive,” Kullgren said.

Let’s hope SoundMind and DryScene are onto something that spreads massively.

DryChick lives in London. She started DryScene to show people that they can have fun without alcohol. She wants to promote a healthy lifestyle and connect like-minded people through her events, where the focus is on the fun and not what’s in your glass. Contact her at info@dryscene.com. 

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