Stringent laws on the purchase of alcohol in Norway and Sweden have been somewhat at odds with the figure these countries have wanted to cut in the modern world.
The time-honored yarning for drink can be blamed on long winter nights, but ancient Scandinavians also drank like fish because their food was preserved with lashings of salt.
King Sverre of Norway experimented with prohibition as early as the 12th century. In 1775, however, King Gustav III of Sweden turned the distillation and sale of spirits into a royal monopoly and encouraged his subjects to drink because he needed the money.
Against this backdrop, 20th-century prohibitions had problems. The conundrum in Norway was that France, Spain and Portugal, major consumers of Norwegian fish, had always bartered with wine or brandy. The issue of prohibition led to the downfall of three successive governments in th 20th century.
Sweden, however, put its faith in the “Bratt Liquor Control System”, a certain Dr. Ivan Bratt having worked out exactly how much an individual could consume according to age, physique and other considerations, with the result that it was almost impossible for a married woman to qualify for a single drink in any circumstances.
Today, as in Gustav III’s time, the sale of wines and spirits in both countries, is a state monopoly.
But there was a time when Norwegian by law was forced to brew beer
Strong drinks have been regulated in Norway since early medieval time. While the Gulating law had commanded how much beer should be brewed, when slaves were to be released or an illegitimate son could be annexed to a family, prohibitions characterized the last two centuries.
In the Middle Ages beer was the dominant beverage for every occasion, and the farmer who did not comply with the injunction to brew, had to pay a fine equivalent to half a cow to the bishop. If the injunction was broken several years in a row, the punishment was grueling: Expulsion or loss of his estate.
At the end of the 1500s liquor got proper foothold in Norway, and then it became more and more common that festivities could degenerate. Decrees were eventually replaced by prohibition. To prevent people from coming drunk to services on Sundays, sales of alcohol were banned in the cities before church time.
By 1629 drinking had degenerated to such a degree that the priest had an adjunct appointed, who would ensure that church members remained in the glow. If not, the priest could refuse the boozer Communion, or in serious cases excommunicate him or banish him from the congregation.
Skål is the first thing we hear on a Scandinavian party or a dinner. Skål is a toast to goodwill and friendship. By saying this at a moment of rising glasses, the Scandinavians wish you a good fortune and a good health.
Historically skål is connected with the Vikings’ epoch in Scandinavia. According to legends, as a tribute to their gods, Vikings were drinking wine from bowls made of sculls (Anglo-Saxon “skalle”) of prostrated foes. Therefore, while doing skål, don’t forget to look at each other eyes and say skål back.
The Scandinavian Demon Drink, written by Tor Kjolberg