Beer brewing has a long history in Sweden, predating written records. It is known, through old writings such as Havamal and others, that the Viking culture used brewing to produce beer and mead. Through the centuries since and up until the 19th century, brewing was mostly a matter of production for the household needs. The beer was usually weak in alcoholic content and used as an everyday beverage. For celebrations and feasts, stronger feast-beer and potent mead was brewed. With the advent of industrialism, all this changed. As the cities grew, home brewing became impossible for most people, and so the Swedish brewing industry arose.
In the mid-19th century, a multitude of small breweries had grown into existence in all the larger cities of Sweden, and every town had to have at least one brewery, if nothing else for sating the local patriotism. In the beginning of the 20th century, a trend of consolidation with mergers and buyouts began, which culminated in the late 1970s and the beginning of 1980. This lead to the formation of three large brewery conglomerates; Pripps, Spendrups and Falcon, and pushed the smaller breweries to the very verge of extinction. This lead to a strong stereotyping of the Swedish beers available to easily drinkable lagers, more often than not lacking in taste and character.
In late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, largely through consumer awareness, a new generation of small breweries began to grow alongside the large companies. These companies offer customers more in the way choise and many of the beers now produced in Sweden is of the very highest internatinal quality, produced with carefully cultivated Brewing Yeasts (often imported from Germany, Belgium or Britain).
The success of the smaller breweries may be because the Swedish alcohol policy, which dictates that a monopoly (Systembolaget) sells all alcoholic beverages. In compensation for this (and the high alcohol taxes), Systembolaget maintains a very good selection of wines and beers and is also all but impervious to pressure from the large breweries to remove or reprice the smaller brands.