Modern Sweden is a multicultural country where locals and visitors regularly enjoy food and drinks from all over the world. Yet, age-old Swedish traditions are still very much evident in the drinks served at home, in cafes, restaurants and bars, and especially during festivals and seasonal celebrations. Many such libations exemplify the focus on freshness and whole-food ingredients that characterize Scandinavian cuisine. Bringing a taste of Sweden into your own repertoire of drinks might mean sourcing a few uncommon ingredients, but several traditional Swedish drinks call only for items you'll find in any stateside supermarket.
Filmjölk – A Cultured Yogurt Drink
Filmjölk is a traditional Swedish drink that's between milk and yogurt in thickness. It's slowly fermented with a distinctive tangy flavor that can only be replicated by making yogurt with a specific live culture. You might find packages of this culture at specialist suppliers online, which means you can make your own filmjölk with no special equipment. When you've made it once, you can use a little of your homemade filmjölk as the starter for the next batch. Drink it as the Swedes do, plain or flavored with fruit or jam, with muesli, or poured over pie and other desserts in place of cream. Kefir and buttermilk are easier-to-find alternatives.
Glögg – Swedish Mulled Wine
Glögg, a warm, spiced red wine, is served all over Sweden around Christmastime. This is one Swedish drink you can easily make at home, with most traditional Swedish glögg recipes calling for red wine simmered gently with a little sugar, citrus peel and warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom. Some versions are boosted with vodka, brandy or rum. Nonalcoholic glögg made with fruit juice in place of wine is also an option. In Sweden, glögg is served in small mugs with raisins and almonds spooned into each serving. The traditional accompaniment is ginger snaps.
Saft – A Fruit-Rich Soft Drink
A popular soft drink in Sweden, saft is a concentrated syrup (or cordial) made from fruit and sugar that's diluted with plain water or soda water before drinking. It can be made using almost any fruit, but authentic Swedish versions often include blackcurrants, redcurrants, lingonberries or elderflowers. All kinds of berries, both fresh and frozen, work well for homemade saft. A typical saft recipe calls for eight parts fruit (one type or a mixture), four parts water and three parts sugar, but the ratio is adjusted depending on how sweet and juicy the fruit is. Saft is a delightful alternative to soda and full fruit juice, and it provides a healthy dose of vitamins and antioxidants from the whole fruit content.
Punsch – A Potent Swedish Punch
Swedish punsch is little known outside of Scandinavia, although before prohibition it was often featured on bar menus and in cocktails. It's an unusual concoction made from Batavia Arrack (an Asian liqueur distilled from red rice) along with lemon, cardamom, clove and tea leaves. It has a unique spiced flavor, and in Sweden is served warm or cold, traditionally alongside pea soup. This DIY punsch recipe substitutes easier-to-find Brazilian cachaça for the Batavia Arrack.
Snaps – Spice-Infused Vodka
Vodka infused with various herbs and spices, known in Sweden as snaps, is traditionally drunk at festivals and celebrations, as well as enjoyed with salty foods like herring and crayfish. The Swedes serve the heady spirit chilled in a special snapsglas, but shot glasses are a fine alternative. Recipes vary, but aniseed, fennel and caraway seeds are commonly used, lending the vodka a distinctive licorice-like flavor. With a bottle of vodka – use the Swedish brand Absolut for authenticity – plus spices, a lemon peel, a little sugar and at least a week for infusion, homemade snaps is entirely achievable.
Fika – The Sharing of Coffee
Fika is not a drink, but the beloved Swedish tradition of taking a break to share a coffee and a chat. You don't necessarily need to drink coffee – it might be tea or a soft drink – while pastries known as fikabröd, cookies and chocolates are often part of a fika, too. A fika can describe a regular work break, a casual meeting with friends or a way to get to know someone new. It could be at a cafe or restaurant, or at home.
Joanne Thomas has worked as a writer and editor for print and online publications since 2004. As a specialist in all things food and drink, she has penned pieces for Livestrong, Robert Mondavi and Modern Mom, among other names. She found her first jobs in a series of kitchens before moving on to celebrate food via the written word. Thomas resides in California and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of Bristol, U.K.