From the traditional Finnish sauna to contemporary social gatherings, alcohol has always played a key role in Finnish society. Whether you are a Finnish native, a curious tourist, or simply interested in learning about different cultures, this post will provide you with an in-depth look at the Finnish relationship with alcohol.
When do Finns drink?
Alcohol is a part of normal weekends for most, but alcohol has a major part in celebrations too.
- Pikkujoulut-"little Christmas." It is a tradition of holiday office parties or gatherings with colleagues or friends to celebrate the end of the year and to let loose before the festive season. Pikkujoulut is often organized after work hours and often involves a large amount of alcohol consumption-not to forget socializing.
- Christmas. At Christmas, Finns drink wines, but also Christmas beers called jouluolut. Jouluolut is often a dark lager with tones of spices. Here is a recommendation of mine. Some spirits like vodka, rum, and whisky are also consumed.
- Easter. Easter is not a drinking party. Most like to sip some red wine with their dinner of lamb.
- Vappu. Is a two-day carnival-style event held in May to celebrate workers and students, and alcohol is an important part of the festivities. Most young ones drink heavily in the evening before the first of May. On the first of May, it is common to gather at a park for a picnic brunch and drink some sparkling wine. Sima is also a drink for Vappu, it is enjoyed with some munkki-donuts.
- Juhannus, the midsummer celebration, is another significant holiday where Finns tend to drink the most alcohol, with it being the busiest day of the year in terms of alcohol purchases. Finns used to drink viina-meaning spirits like koskenkorva and vodka. Nowadays, Finns like to drink more beer and wine. It is summertime, so Alko sells a lot of white wines and rose wines during Midsummer. Men, however, consume beer during Juhannus, and it is also trendy to buy more premium beer from local small breweries. Since most Finns like to spend Juhannus on a cottage and the fridge space is limited, it is common to buy hanapakkaus meaning a 3-litre carton case of wine. Sauna is, of course, a part of Juhannus, and who would not enjoy some lonkero after sauna? Here is a recipe on how to make lonkero yourself.
- Halloween. Halloween has become a common festivity here, also. It is, of course, an excuse to drink alcohol and get wasted..
- Independence day. It is on December 6th. People drink more moderately these days. It is seen as a more respectful event.
- New year. An occasion where alcohol is widely consumed. Sparkling wines are a favorite.
- Birthdays. Also, an occasion when people drink alcohol.
- Weddings. Most weddings have alcohol served. It is common to serve sparkling wine as a welcome drink. Wine with the food and cognac with the dessert. In the evening, many have a bar with drinks or serve beer, cider, and a long drink. It is a custom for men to have with them a taskumatti-hip flask with some stronger spirit- it is drunk outside at the parking lot where guys go and take a "break". You can order your own taskumatti at suomikauppa.
Where to buy alcohol?
If you're looking for mild alcoholic beverages that contain less than 5.5% alcohol such as beer, cider, or long drinks, you can easily purchase them at grocery stores. However, if you're searching for drinks with a higher alcohol content, your destination must be Alko.
Alko is a government-owned company and has a monopoly on alcohol sales. Countries like Sweden and Norway also have similar alcohol monopolies in place.
The sale of alcohol at both Alko and grocery stores is permitted between the hours of 7 AM and 9 PM, though Alko's operating hours typically run from 10 AM to 9 PM. On Saturdays, it closes at 18, and on Sundays, Alko is closed. Check local opening hours at Alko web page.
Alcohol laws in Finland
Consuming alcohol in a public area within a town is prohibited. A public area is defined as a road, street, sidewalk, square, park, beach, sports field, cemetery, or any other similar area that is available for public use. Excessive alcohol consumption in these areas could disturb the peace of others and pose a threat to safety.
In addition to the mentioned areas, public areas also include buildings, public transportation vehicles, government agencies, offices, transportation hubs, shopping centers, and commercial spaces that are accessible to the public during certain events or otherwise.
For example, drinking alcoholic beverages on a city bus is prohibited. Similarly, a group of young people drinking alcohol on a public sports field while spending their evening is violating public order laws, which are enforced by the police.
The police can stop you on the street if they see you drinking. You might get a fine of 40 euros. This can occur when behaving badly or disturbing others.
Even though it is prohibited, it is quite common for people to drink alcohol outside. Having a picnic on a beach or at a park might include some alcoholic beverages. The law also states that it does not apply to drinking alcoholic beverages in a park or similar public area, as long as the drinking and associated activities do not impede or unreasonably obstruct others' right to use the area for its intended purpose.
In Finland the standard BAC limit is 0.5 g/l for all drivers. The police conduct between 1.2 and 1.8 million breathalyzer tests annually. This means you might be stopped and have to take a breath analysis. These are made especially when coming off a ferry/ boat with car, Stockholm-Helsinki or Tallinn-Helsinki.
Legal age to drink
- 18 years of age to buy beverages for up to 22% alcohol.
- 20 years to buy beverages above 22%
At bars and restaurants, you can though drink and buy alcohol of any kind, even if it is stronger than 22%. At Alko liquor store, they check your age from your driver's license or passport or another legal document.
The same age limits apply to the possession of alcohol: a person who has reached the age of 18 may possess mild alcoholic beverages, and a person who has reached the age of 20 may possess strong drinks. Providing alcohol to minors is a crime, and accepting a fee for providing it is considered a serious offense. (alcohol law in Finland)
How much alcohol do Finns drink per year?
Alko sold 80,3 million liters of drinks year 2022. This was 9,9 percent less than the year before. Finns bought viina- over 8,8 million liters.
On average Finns drink around 9-10 liters of pure alcohol a year. This means in numbers around 680 small beers, 114 bottles of sparkling wine, or 98 bottles of red wine. (source) There are many people who are not big consumers of alcohol, so it means these numbers are bigger for the number of people who are seen as big drinkers. Men drink more alcohol than women.
Alcohol consumption has got lower over the years. For example, in the year 2019, the number was on average 10 liters of pure alcohol per person, and 9 liters in the year 2021. Statistics count from the age of 15 upward. (read study 1 on alcohol consumption or study2)
Corona pandemic though raised the consumption of alcohol. Many started to drink at home, this was to relieve the stress and anxiety feelings.
About half of all consumed alcohol is drunk as beer in Finland. Mild wines account for about 20% of all alcohol, and strong drinks account for about 20%. The rest of the consumption is drunk as mixed drinks (e.g., long drinks) and ciders.
Around 70% of total consumption is made up of alcohol purchased from Alko and grocery stores. 11% of total consumption is used in restaurants, 14% is travelers' imports, and 4% is other unreported consumption. Most alcohol is purchased from grocery stores. (source for numbers)
Risk levels of alcohol consumption
Here are the risk levels thought in Finland:
The risk of long-term health effects from alcohol consumption can be divided into three risk levels for working-age individuals.
- Low-risk level: 0-1 serving for women and 0-2 servings for men per day.
- Moderate risk level: 7 servings per week for women and 14 servings per week for men.
- High-risk level: 12-16 servings per week for women and 23-24 servings per week for men.
In addition, the risk of alcohol-related harm increases with heavy drinking. The limit for heavy drinking is 5-6 servings for women and 6-7 servings for men at once.
Most popular alcoholic beverages
Some brands loved by Finns and found in all grocery stores:
- Lapin Kulta
Finnish beer song
Here is a fun song for you to remember the brands, use the melody of Jaakko Kulta, (brother John lullaby)
- Lapin kulta, Lapin kulta,
- Karjala, Karjala
- Karhu sekä Olvi, Karhu sekä Olvi
- Koff Koff Koff. Koff Koff Koff
Especially fun if sung in canon.
There are many local berry wines you might want to try. We Finns do love exported grape wines. From white wine, Chardonnay is popular, also German Riesling white wine is a favorite. From reds, the Portuguese wine 2u Duas Uvas was the most sold-fourth year in a row.
The first lonkeros were served in the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952. It was necessary to develop a drink that was refreshing and could be served to large crowds. The company Hartwall took this task and made a gin-grapefruit soda drink to serve guests.
This drink was so popular that the production continued even after the Olympic Games. Hartwall still makes a Long drink with the original recipe. -see a DIY recipe here.
Ciders are popular among the youth and as a Sauna drink. Fizz, Upcider, Kopparberg, and Happy Joe, are popular, we do have other brands like Sommersby and British Crowmoor. Sommersby is known for its different fruity and berry flavors. Grocery stores also have their own brands like Rainbow and Pirkka which are the cheapest options.
Viina refers to all liquors distilled from potatoes and/or grains. Most sold year 2022 in order:
- Leijona viina
- Koskenkorva viina
- Suomi viina
- Tapio viina
Viina is also sold as flavored alternatives like lime, lemon, watermelon etc. Some like to drink it as it is, but usually viina is used as a base for different drinks.