When the news reached BeerSweden this weekend that the government had finally said no to the possibility of gårdsförsäljning I decided to break one of my ground rules on this blog.
Mixing beer with politics.
In my experience the two things never go well together, unless you get a politician in a bar, in which case it’s absolutely no problem whatsoever.
But ask for a quote or wave a camera in their general direction and it seems, publicly at least, alcohol (and of course this blog’s primary concern beer) is not something many politicians seem comfortable dealing with.
Indeed many of them would rather take up thornier issues like immigration, the death penalty or selling Skåne to Denmark rather than rationally discuss the stuff.
As long as I’ve been involved in the drinks industry my understanding of politicians is that they approach alcohol on two broad fronts. They either want to tax it to death or restrict the supply of it. In several countries they like to do both.
So the Swedish government’s decision in the past couple of days to reject the possibility for local breweries (as well as wine, cider and spirit producers) to sell their products from their own premises was not entirely unexpected.
That doesn’t make it any less depressing or me any less angry.
As I understand it one of the biggest reasons behind the government’s decision to reject gårdsförsäljning is that it would pose a threat to the Swedish alcohol monopoly.
Really? Would, for example, Eskilstuna Ölkultur, with an annual volume of circa 60,000L really contribute to the collapse of the Systembolaget if it were allowed to sell a few cases of its beers to visitors?
Ahh I hear some of you say. “How many is a few cases?” And it’s here the politicians and anti-alcohol lobbyists swing into action, hinting at the prospect of a weak-willed Swedish society in the grip of an alcoholic Armageddon in which articulated lorries pull up every day to breweries in rural locations and fill themselves to bursting point with booze which is then sold cheaply in playgrounds and broken homes across the country.
I see things another way.
Allowing local breweries the opportunity to sell their beers directly to the public from their own premises would be a welcome additional income that would help stimulate the grassroots of this country’s beer industry.
In reality I doubt many of the smaller breweries would ever take up the opportunity to sell direct from their doorstep. After all the potential rewards are small and the extra staff hours and administration it requires would probably make gårdsförsäljning difficult for many to go around.
I wonder why the issue of gårdsförsäljning always has to be linked to the collapse of the Systembolaget? Surely the two could co-exist? Why not put a limit on the amount an individual can buy ‘on-premise’ to, say, 10 litres of beer each trip? That would give breweries a welcome boost but not take too much away from the coffers of the state’s monopoly.
For me though the biggest disappointment of the decision to reject gårdsförsäljning has nothing to do with profit or loss.
By scraping gårdsförsäljning we’re losing out on the opportunity to get more people into breweries. If protecting Swedish society from the negative affects of alcohol truly lies at the heart of this decision then I can’t think of a better, more effective way to positively influence a person’s relationship to beer than to demonstrate the care, passion and skill that goes into brewing it from within a brewery itself.
But then I’ve always felt being open and sharing knowledge about alcohol is the way to go rather than attempting to push it away and demonize it.
Clearly I don’t have much of a future in politics.