I love my alcohol, so much, that I have a tribute to it in the form of a small tattoo. You can’t blame me then for getting excited about the Spritmuseum (The Spirit Museum) that I stumbled across when researching places to visit in Stockholm, Sweden. Here is a place that looks into Sweden’s history with its alcohol, showcases art and drinking traditions, and is home to the largest collection of commissioned works (over 850) by Absolut Vodka, featuring artists like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst.
And so on a cold winter afternoon, I chose the most picturesque way to get to Djurgården Island, where the museum is located and hopped onto the ferry at Slussen. As I stepped off and walked to The Spritmuseum, it began to snow. Indulging in a tasting platter of traditional alcohol was now quite a warming thought.
The Spirits of the World
Past the automatic sliding doors of the museum, I stepped into the restaurant and bar, which is also the reception. The ground floor houses a temporary exhibition featuring one artist from the Absolut Art Collection.
On the mezzanine floor, the light shifted from functional to exhibition mode. With the blue and white lights, I had now stepped into ‘The Spirits of the World’s’ first exhibit—a collection of trees and a gentle breeze rustling their leaves. On the trees were glass bottles and the lone sugarcane, grape cluster, apple, ear of corn and potato–all ingredients that are often used in distilling alcohol—hanging low enough to touch.
The museum, located on Djurgården Island, is a delight for booze aficionados interested in the history of spirits. Photo Courtesy: Spritmuseum
The Skål Wall and Some Karaoke
Skål, the popular Swedish style of toast, means ‘bowl’, a reference to the communal sharing of drinks that was common till the 1800s. Today, it signals the beginning of good times ahead and a lot of Swedish snapsvisor (drinking songs). The Skål wall had framed pictures that showcased the various reasons people drink, from a lucky swig before hunting to home remedies.
I spotted a caravan installation blaring popular snapsvisor, to the rhythmic clinking of glasses in the background. Stepping inside, I was transported to an afternoon in the countryside, pastoral scenes whizzing past the windows. I was happy to play audience to a raucous group of youngsters belting out a snapsvisa with gusto. Funny thing is, I could still hear the clinking of glasses but couldn’t spot the source anywhere.
After browsing through a temporary exhibition, called ‘A Spicy Christmas’ (featuring photographer Edvard Koinberg) and a display of popular Christmas beers, I was at world of distillation, where I first encountered Bacchus, the copper still that produced spirits for Sweden for around 106 years. Right next to it was a series of aroma pumps, demonstrating the flavouring and purification processes. Fair warning, while the anise and cumin smelled great, there were a few gag-worthy ones, such as the fusel oils.
All great, but the clinking of glasses just got louder and by now I was determined to find out where it came from. Up the second floor I went, to see a bar with an overhead wine rack where visitors could play a movie and alcohol-related quiz. Each time I got an answer wrong, the overhead rack of glasses shook making that clinking sound I had heard all along. The last room in the museum was the Hangover room. An everyday room, but the sounds and light effects in it mimicked nasty hangovers that so many of us may be familiar with.
Every part of the museum showcases Sweden’s history with alcohol, art and regional drinking traditions. Photo Courtesy: Spritmuseum
Museum done, it was time for the traditional tasting at the bar. I started with Scandanavia’s iconic Aquavit OP Andersson. Aquavit in Latin means waters of life and was believed to possess medicinal values because of botanical infusions commonly used in medicines. The one I was sampling had caraway, fennel and anise, giving way to herbal liquorice flavours.
Rånäs Brännvin was next, distilled from 100 per cent Swedish wheat, spiced with bitter orange and cinnamon. Before the technology to filter out fusel oils existed, flavourings were used to mask the strong smells and taste. This recipe is an homage to the old style of production. Next up was Bäska Droppar Aquavit, perhaps the most challenging to my palate because it lived up to its name–bitter drops. Historically made with wormwood, it is incredibly bitter and dry.
My binge ended on a sweet note with Roslags Punsch (an alcoholic liqueur that mixes spirits like brandy, rum, etc.) and also known as Arrack. Made from dates of palm trees it is usually not consumed neat. This one had been diluted with different residual sugars of citrus and tea and clocked an alcohol percentage of 21 per cent. It was usually served in a handle cup because punsch is enjoyed hot and cold. Once I had guzzled it down, I was ready to explore more of Stockholm, pleased as punsch!
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Admission and tasting tray fee: Approximately Rs1850 (admission free if you have the Stockholm Pass).
Ruth Dsouza Prabhu
is a Bangalore-based independent journalist. She writes for several publications, Indian and international, on food, travel, lifestyle, culture and architecture. She enjoys telling the stories of people and chronicling interesting experiences that don't find a place in the rush of the mainstream. Ruth is currently delving deep into Indian food history with her work.
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