An intoxicating gallery tour in Stockholm

Refreshing change ... Spirit Museum in Stockholm.
Refreshing change ... Spirit Museum in Stockholm. 

Welcome to Sweden: promised land of the bag-in-box, drinking songs, the quick drink after work, weekend binges and state-run liquor.

Before I've even stepped into the first gallery within Stockholm's new Spirit Museum (spritmuseum.se), I can tell from this welcoming notice that the Swedish attitude to alcohol is ... complicated.

This museum dedicated to alcoholic beverages, within a renovated boat shed on the scenic island of Djurgarden, is a refreshing change from dull distillery or brewery tours.

It's more like a big art installation than a museum, awash with video screens and large, colourful props, such as simulated forests and full-size caravans.

However, it's in two minds about its subject. Nectar of the gods or demon drink? That's very much up to me, it seems. The museum's curators want me to consider both angles, which seems fitting for a country that nearly voted for Prohibition in 1922 and that maintains a government monopoly over liquor stores.

Fair enough. "I'll, er, drink to that approach," I think, as I enter beneath a canopy of artificial trees, encountering the first of the museum's smell-and-taste stations. Each of these emits the aroma of an ingredient used in the flavouring of spirits - in this case, the peel of the Seville orange. If you buy a tasting pack from the desk, you can go the full sensory experience by sipping on the supplied orange-accented vodka and biting a piece of chocolate.

There's a frank playfulness about this and other exhibits, even when they're asking me to indulge in serious thought about my relationship with alcohol. Small screens embedded in the fake tree trunks show a woman in various social situations, conjecturing about when it's OK to drink.

Further on there's a rifle in a glass case (something to do with drinking and hunting), then on another screen a jaunty cartoon features an animated brain on legs holding a cocktail, discussing the brain reward system.

About this point, I wonder if I've been secretly drinking, but there's more strangeness to come.

By the shore of a wall-size projected sea with a ridge of artificial rocks, I pause at another smelling station and ponder the use of caraway and dill, the latter apparently being "the taste of Swedish summer". Nearby on another screen, a long table of Swedes in white suits discuss their tastes in alcohol, from the universal Mojito to an unlikely beverage concocted with drops of fluid from beaver glands.

Near the end of the exhibition is a wild room with a series of flat, angled couches, on which visitors lie to watch a short film on screens above. In it, a young bearded man is caught in close-up as he stumbles through a winter night, becoming progressively more wrecked until he collapses onto the snow. It's very arty and I'm half-expecting a vampire or a troubled detective to show up, but no dice - it's just myself and Mr Unconscious at the end.

I should get up off this comfy couch and visit the room housing the art collection once commissioned by a Swedish vodka company; it even has a Warhol, I'm told. But I'm inclined to skip the art and head for the bar I spotted in the sunshine outside. For some reason, I feel like a drink.

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