Kippis! The strange history of Finland’s love affair with alcohol

Finlandia Vodka, photo by Vicente Villamón


Finns have always had an unusual relationship with alcohol. As far back as the 18th century, the French enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu referred to Finns as heavy drinkers. Doubtlessly, this contributed to prohibition introduced by Sweden in 1756. Prohibition ended under Russian Imperial rule, but it was still against the law to make moonshine at home. However, lobbying for complete prohibition remained popular among all kinds of busybodies.


Their dream finally came true in the 20th century when Finland become the 5th country in the world after the Russian Empire (1914), Iceland (1915), Norway (1916) and Canada (1918) to impose prohibition. The period last from 1919-1932 and went as badly as you’d expect. Well-to-do people drank less, but the black market created all kinds of problems and a breeding ground for crime. Despite the end of prohibition, and the fact the state-run monopoly, Alko, no longer has a system of rationing cards in place, alcohol remains under strict regulation to this day. This has lead to a wide variety of peculiarities in Finnish alcohol law.


"Kräftor kräva dessa drycker" - "Crashfish require these beverages"

Unlike the Finns, the Swedes had the good sense to vote against prohibition in a 1922 referendum. This famous Swedish anti-prohibition poster implies that booze/snaps is required for traditional Swedish crayfish parties. The message is that one simply would have to abstain from crayfish following the passing of prohibition.


1. Marketers can’t portray journeys!

Finnish alcohol must be marketed to stay-at-home hobbits because you’re not allowed to portray travelling in advertising selling alcohol. Consequently, alcohol brands are not permitted to sponsor motorsports, and no-one is allowed to name a boat after alcoholic beverages. The famous Alesmith Speedway Stout, for example, would be banned in Finland due to its racing flag theme and the inclusion of “speedway” in the product name!

2. Implying strength in marketing is off-limits

Words implying strength are not welcome in alcohol branding and ads. Slogans such as “stronger than a bear” have been considered inappropriate.


3. No athletes, whether current or washed up!

Valvira, The National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, the government office that oversees alcohol advertising is strictly against using athletes in alcohol advertising. For example, all-round troubled soul and former ski jumper Matti Nykänen’s famous quote about a “50/60 chance” was deemed unseemly. Authorities referred to the common, tabloid knowledge that the quote referred to Nykänen, who suffers from substance abuse. To us, it’s simply astounding that anyone would want to use a notorious wife beater like Nykänen as the face of their brand.

4. Bloggers and restaurant social media accounts can’t share their opinions

Bloggers can’t accept any sort of compensation for discussing beverages. What’s more, restaurant owners or wholesale purchaser aren’t allowed to make positive statements about any alcohol products, even on their personal social media. Likewise, restaurant owners must remove any positive comments about alcoholic beverages from their social media channels


Viinakortti - the Finnish alcohol rationing card

Viinakortti – the Finnish alcohol rationing card used after the end of prohibition. Every alcohol purchase was filed and frequent purchasers could have their cards confiscated.


5. Sexism and implications about sexual desirability are a no-no

There are cases when Valvira has chosen to ban certain portrayals of women ads for alcohol, but let’s face it, so should any art director with any sense of taste. Just how serious Valvira is about removing the implication of sexual conquests from alcohol advertising becomes evident in the banning of Ron de Jeremy, a Finnish rum brand that featured the face of ancient porn star Ron Jeremy.


6. Alcohol branding can’t use cartoons

Duff Beer, from The Simpsons, is not Valvira-kosher, so no Homer role playing for you. The Simpsons have never been televised with a dubbed soundtrack or explicitly marketed towards kids in local media, but on the other hand, the Simpsons brand is licensed for toys.

On the other hand, characters from the Viivi & Wagner comic strip appear to be ok in a beer marketing. Probably adult oriented enough, considering that the comic’s home page features a joke about panty sniffing.

Viivi & Wagner branded Finnish beer


7. You can’t sell or even hand out your own products

Microbreweries are struggling because they’re not allowed any direct outlet sales, without having all the permissions for, and the actual will to run a small grocery store. Indeed, the rules about handing out alcohol are so strict, a whisky distillery wasn’t allowed to let investors, parents of the business owners and restaurant owners taste their product at a closed, invite-only opening ceremony, as it was considered illegal promotion.

So, what does the future hold?

Rules about microbreweries, special, fenced off for alcohol serving at events, restaurants and the like are subject to change in a new bill. Likewise up for revision is the limits on restaurants, bars and nightclubs, where currently only a select few establishments are given the right to serve alcohol until 3:30 am. Advertising will also be loosened up a bit, to allow phrases like “happy hour” and the publication of manufacturer product listings in print and online.

Needless to say, these changes will come slowly.  As has been shown in the last hundred years, the Finnish state doesn’t really trust the Finnish people with alcohol, despite the fact that according to the WHO, Finland ranks only 16th in the world for alcohol consumption per capita. However, one thing is for sure, while the Alko still has a monopoly, the ferries to Tallinn will still enjoy a roaring trade.


10 replies

  1. I agree: “However, one thing is for sure, while the Alko still has a monopoly, the ferries to Tallinn will still enjoy a roaring trade.”

    You can order alcohol products online from the internet Thanks for the EU and Free movement of Goods.

  2. I remember the early 90ies whe Estonians in general didn’t have a lot of money and, going on a day trip to Helsinki, everybody brought along a bottle or two of hard liquor to sell on the black. There were people already meeting the boat and everybody got what they wanted. Cheap booze from one side, and some Finnish marks from the other! And what about the viinarallit (vodka buying rallies) to Tallinn! These are still going on, as the price difference remains noticeable. These days Estonians are going on vodka rallies to Latvia, by the way. What a laugh!

  3. I remember very distinctly the Ron Jeremy rum being shown on the No Reservations episode in Helsinki. Maybe that info is outdated? Or different since it was for a US/international audience?

    • Typical laws input countries. It’s just opening times. No reference to keeping a record of alcohol.consumption and wives declaring them selves alcoholics so husband could get their allocation

  4. coming from a long line of alcoholics, i can say with authority that this has been so totally mismanaged. here in france i’ve not met one single drunk staggering down the street, yet i’ve seen wine with breakfast.
    kids drink kiddie wine. macdonalds serves heineken and wine.
    but you rarely see the hard stuff, except on special occasions, like 11/11, when the scotch gets hauled out at 11 am…

  5. I don’t have any Moomin mugs, any Marimekko, any Ikea stuff. But I have in use the mugs from the factory Arabia which makes also the Moomin mugs. The model of the mug is same but I have the figures about Helsinki. Done when Helsinki had the title “Design capital of the year.”

  6. Well, you should all come to visit Bulgaria then, fellas 😉
    Cheep and non-stop shop selling alcohol 24/7/365 😉
    Not joking.

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