Sampling Viking mead and microbrews, Kendra Valentine goes on a crawl of Stockholm’s historic pubs.
I scurried along over Old Town’s cobblestones to meet Tiffany, my Stockholm Historic Pub Tour guide outside the entrance of the Gamla Stan metro station. I’m not typically one for guided tours, but if there was ever a kind of tour I’m always onboard for, it’s one which involves drinking. This pub tour wasn’t simply pushing a few craft beers… its distinct focus on the ‘history’ of drink and its establishments in Old Town, sets this tour apart. A wonderful way to highlight a city as old as Stockholm, where you can literally drink through the ages: from medieval mead to modern microbrews.
Within minutes of starting the tour, Tiffany promised that we “would drink like the gods,” and I was immediately onboard. After a vivid and entertaining short history of alcohol consumption over the millennia, we were off clickety-clacking through the streets en route to our first stop.
Fittingly, we started where it all began: the Viking era. Named after the legendary Viking ship Aifur, the bar and restaurant boasts itself as the only genuine Viking era outpost, focusing on the food and culture from the years 700 through 1100. With walls clad in Viking era weapon reproductions, and age-appropriate communal seating lined with animal pelts, the scene was set to indulge in the most coveted drink of the age: mead.
This ancient drink is created by fermenting honey and water, and its sweetness is told to have been likened to the nectar of the gods… and confirming just that, Tiffany tells us an ancient story which makes the distinct nature of the drink come to light.
We walked across the island, chatting along the way, to our next stop. I must say that the tour attracted a jovial bunch of people, who kept the ‘pub spirit’ flowing as we walked from one location to the next. Several participants were actually solo travellers who simply wanted to do something in the evening during their trip in good company.
After taking in the architecture and some insightful history as told by Tiffany, we arrived at a legendary establishment: Den Gyldene Freden. Den Gyldene Freden is the oldest restaurant in Stockholm, opening in 1722, and popular for visitors and locals alike. Here we sampled a drink synonymous with Swedish holidays to this very day: snaps.
However, this particular snaps was a special blend unique to even the most ‘merry’ Swedish holiday frequenter, as it was a special blend made solely for the restaurant and not sold outside of its doors… and at 38% alcohol, it’s not for the faint of heart! But, don’t be put-off by its high alcohol content as the snaps was some of the smoothest blends I’ve ever tasted.
Our next stop, Movitz, is named after a young man who found himself the subject of many a-song by famous traditional poet and singer, Carl Michael Bellman. This straightforward bar, dating to the 1600s, serves up steadfast options you find in Swedish pubs across the city – beers and a few spirits – inside a dim room filled with unassuming dark wood tables and a few choice era appropriate photos adorning the stone walls.
There, we settled in to an intricate story about Swedish drinking history, from prohibition to rationing, while sipping on a pint of D. Carnegie Porter, brewed by Carlberg Sweden today, but first introduced in 1836. Served from the bottle, this deep walnut brown brew was a great accompaniment to the twists and turns of Tiffany’s storytelling.
Continuing with the golden age of Swedish drink, we ventured over to Monks Porter which is housed within an incredible historic building. Upon entering, we zig-zagged through a hall to find stairs leading down to the cellar. As you may have guessed, Monk’s Porter House specializes in darker Porter & Stout beers, many of which they brew on-site. However, they have about 56 beers on tap at any time, so if you prefer a nice IPA or experimental lager, you are in good company.
Even if you are not a beer lover, it’s worth visiting Monks just to experience the cozy candle-lit enclaves of this massive stone-lined cellar. Of all the locations, Monks will transport you back to the 1600s and keep you content with being there with their wonderful selection of brews.
We were given a flight of four of Monk’s beers, brewed both on-site and at other local Monks breweries. This included a classic Bavarian pils, both a dark and blonde lager, and a distinctly fruity amber orange ale. Guided through the flight by both Tiffany and a resident Monks brewer, we sipped the brews and continued our conversations until well after the official end of the tour.
For myself, the main appeal of the Stockholm Historic Pub Tour is that it is something a local could do just as well as a visitor, and better still: all year around. Living in Stockholm, there are few activities that really work in the darkness of winter, so this tour is definitely a playing card to keep in your back pocket for colder months just as much as warmer ones.
Although I knew a couple of the stops, the historic insight and colorful storytelling provided by Tiffany really made the experience fun.
About Stockholm Historic Pub Tour
The pub tour runs for about 2.5 hours on Thursdays and Saturdays, and the ticket price of 495 SEK includes the cost of six drinks. If you happen to be mainly interested in the history and good company, there are also non-alcoholic alternatives available. You can book directly on their website here.