Sweden is a completely different experience for buying alcohol than Denmark and Norway. Our trip to Copenhagen, Denmark in July kind of blew me away to see hundreds of people walking around on city center streets drinking beer during the hot summer days and nights. The canals and squares of Copenhagen were often lined with people drinking wine and beer in public.
I have not seen any alcohol drinking in open public squares or parks in Malmo, Sweden.
Price of Beer in Denmark
At nights in Copenhagen, I saw 7-Eleven corner markets did brisk business for beer sales. At an average 7-Eleven store price of 15 DKK ($2.25 USD) per bottle of Tuborg or Carlsberg, there was a lot of money changing hands for alcohol. The lowest beer price in a store I found in Copenhagen during our stay was about 9 DKK ($1.35) per bottle of Carlsberg. The lowest pub price I paid was 30 DKK per bottle or $4.50 USD. At those prices, I only bought three or four bottles of beer in pubs, which is why I am familiar with 7-Eleven night sales in Copenhagen.
Price of Beer in Norway
During my two week trip in Norway last year I abstained from buying alcohol. The price of a bottle of beer in the store started at about 30 NOK or nearly $5.00 USD. The average price for a beer in a bar or restaurant was about 90 NOK, or about $14.25 USD.
The dollar to NOK exchange rate was 30% lower when I was in Norway September 2014 at about 6.30 NOK = 1 USD. The lowest beer price I saw at a restaurant during my two weeks in Norway last year was 63 NOK ($10 USD) for Freydenlund Pilsner in a hotel bar. Today, September 4, 2015, the exchange rate is 8.30 NOK = $1.00 USD. A bottle of beer in the store might be as low as $3.50 USD when I visit Norway again later this month.
Price of Beer in Sweden
The price of a microbrew beer in the hotel bar in Malmo is 79 SEK per bottle for a 7% IPA. The exchange rate is about 8.48 SEK = $1.00 USD. One bottle of beer is about $9.30. My quick search shows the typical price for beer in a pub is about 59 SEK or about $7.00 USD.
In the store yesterday, I bought a six-pack of beer for 40 SEK, including deposit. That is $4.70 USD for 3.0 Liters of beer or the equivalent volume of about nine 12-oz. bottles of beer in the USA. The catch is the beer I bought is like Utah store-bought beer. The alcohol content is 2.8% ABV.
Alcohol Content Equivalency
The difference between Sweden compared to Denmark and Norway is a state monopoly on store sales of alcohol beverages stronger than 3.5%. Grocery stores only sell beer with 2.8% or 3.5% alcohol. You have to go to Systembolaget, the government liquor store to buy stronger alcohol content beverages. This is the way I remember beer sales in Stockholm from my last trip to Sweden in 1993.
The normal strength for beer like Budweiser, Coors or Stella Artois is generally between 4.0 to 5.5% alcohol for major beer brands. Craft beers in the USA from brewpubs are often stronger at 5.0 to 7.2%, with India Pale Ales tending to be a popular higher alcohol content beer.
Beer in Sweden is taxed by alcohol content.
Sweden has the highest alcohol tax in the EU for spirits and 4th highest for wine (2010 data). The deal in Sweden is there is no additional tax on beer at 2.8% alcohol or less (Sweden government Jan 2015 data).
From my consumer perspective, the price of six 500 ml cans of 2.8% beer in the store was 33.90 SEK + 1.00 SEK per can deposit for a total price of 39.90 SEK or $4.70 USD.
The price for a six pack of 3.5% beer was twice the price at about 70 SEK or around $9.00 USD with the 6 SEK can deposit. Quick math check shows the price is twice as much for an additional 25% alcohol content.
Four cans of 3.5% beer purchased in the store is $6.00 for the same alcohol content as five cans of 2.8% beer at $3.91.
Bottom line is beer is affordable in Sweden, but you have to drink a lot of Swedish 2.8% beer to get a buzz.
Czech Republic, where beer drinking is a fountain of national pride.
Tomorrow I will be in the Czech Republic, the country with the highest per capita consumption of beer in the world. I tried about 20 different brands of beer during my last trip to Prague in 2007. I first visited the Czech Republic in August 2000 on a quest for 15 cents glasses of pub beer. Inflation had pushed the price up to 25 cents in the cheapest pub I found. That first trip offered fine dining restaurant experiences with top of the line bottled beer for $1.00.
You can count on my first-person beer price report from Czech Republic appearing on Loyalty Traveler sometime in the next few days.