It’s been almost 10 years since I first ambled across Copenhagen’s charming cobblestone streets in search of the original Mikkeller bar and other lesser-known microbrews. Since then, my stops in the Danish capital have grown in frequency and length, and my ventures have taken me deeper into the depths of Scandinavia, with me always learning from more knowledgeable peers.
In that time, modern Scandinavian culture has continued to entice individuals from across the globe. From mid-century design aficionados to fashion lovers and, most recently, foodies, the influence and impact of the simplicity and functionality born from Scandinavian creativity grew an audience of visitors.
Now, Scandinavia finds itself influencing the drinks world, too. Forget images of Viking hordes skolling mead after a bloody raid. Modern Scandinavian drinking culture is based on building community. Ask around about how to drink like a Scandinavian, and you’ll find that from Oslo to Jutland and beyond, the culture prides itself on socializing and local ingredients, along with the type of cozy comfort often associated with the Danish word “hygge.” Here, we explore what it truly means to drink like a Scandinavian so you’re ready when you finally book that trip.
Start with Skål
There are many toasting traditions around the world, and Scandinavia is no different.
“In Denmark, Sweden and Norway we have many words in common, both in spelling and in pronunciation,” explains Alex Munch, co-founder of Danish whisky distillery Stauning in Skjern, Denmark. “Skål is one of them and is our word for cheers.”
He explains that skål is supposedly derived from the word for a kind of bowl and goes back to the time of the Vikings. “They fill it with beverages and let all drink from it so they can have their own skål,” Munch says. “Originally the toast belonged to the pagan festivals where the Vikings sacrificed their livestock to the Nordic gods.”
He continues, “At [modern] parties, it is common to propose a toast. For the just married couple, for the birthday boy or birthday girl or just for a happy life. The skål is very inclusive, leaving nobody behind because—in drinking—we are all equal.”
There’s a very specific way to skål with your drinking partners when sipping in Scandinavia: “The ritual of skål-ing where one raises a glass of akvavit with panache, look[s] intently at their drinking companion, down[s] the glass and return[s] to eye contact is almost its own mode of communication, expressing many things without uttering a word,” says Lars Williams, co-founder, CEO, chef and distiller of Danish-American flavor company Empirical.