Scandi Spirit

“The dream for any producer is of course to be present in the regular range where the brand is exposed in the shop,” he says. “But achieving that is very difficult.

“For example, Systembolaget has, at least in the past, favoured producers which offer bottlings with age statements and that will be available for a number of years. They seem to like continuity.

“This has been problematic for new distilleries such as Scotland’s Kilchoman, which discontinues bottlings and releases new ones every year. On the other hand, a total range of 1,500 different whiskies is not bad even if you have to wait a while before you get it.”

Valid point

The point about small producers is a valid one. Look at those year-on-year figures again, and while Irish
whiskey sales and Scottish single malt sales were up by 6.7% and 5.7% respectively, other whiskies were up an impressive 13.8%, albeit from a relatively small base.

This is the category which will include new world whiskies as well as the growing number of new Scandinavian — with Denmark, Finland, Ice-land and particularly Sweden bottling whiskies regularly now.

One of the most successful new world distillers is The English Whisky Company, and according to managing director Andrew Nelstrop, the system makes for very unpredictable and volatile trading conditions.

“Scandinavia has proved to be a slight roller coaster for us,” he says.

“We sell to Sweden and have maintained a nice level of sales but because the market is government controlled, winning a national tender can dramatically increase sales for a given period as your product is suddenly widely available and visible in the government controlled liquor stores.

“However these tenders are quite few and far between for less well known types of whisky and therefore whilst it is lovely to see these occasional flurries of sales, they are not to be relied on.”

Spread the word

“We bottle single cask whiskies specially for the Swedish market place. Due to the ban on advertising etc in Sweden — we rely on our distributor and these customers to spread the word about English whisky and slowly build our customer base.”

It seems the state model can also benefit the new of Scandinavian producers. “So far I think the Scandinavian distilleries, even the smallest ones, have had an advantage from the monopoly,” says Ronde.

“I don’t think this is because Systembolaget tries to be especially nice to the producers but rather that the interest in Swedish whisky is big right now and having Systembolaget as the distributor means that the producers are able to reach consumers in the entire country.

“Swedish distiller Box sold out its first two releases of 5,000 bottles each in fewer than 30 minutes. It remains to be seen though if this interest is here to stay.”

Meanwhile back on the cruise liner, a group of members from the Stockholm Malt and Metal Society is waiting for an on-board masterclass by Laphroaig master distiller John Campbell.

“Scandinavians will always love good whiskey and Swedes specially like peaty whisky such as Laphroaig,” one of them tells me.

“That will not change. As long as we have money and Scotland has whisky we will continue to sail down there like Vikings to raid its whisky stocks.”

His friends laugh heartily, raise their glasses in agreement, cheer “skål” and finish off their malts before heading off for a refill.

And with that you can’t help but think that whisky still has a future here. A big one.