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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about buying alcohol in Norway

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about buying alcohol in Norway
Illustration photo: CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
Buying alcohol in Norway is expensive but what about the strict rules around purchasing it? Here's what you should know about the system that controls the sale of beer, wine, and spirits.

Where can I buy alcohol in Norway?

Picking up a bottle of wine for dinner or a party in Norway can require some planning. It’s not as simple as popping into the nearest corner shop or supermarket and choosing a bottle.

While beer, ciders, and other beverages with an alcohol percentage of 4.7 or less are allowed to be to be sold in grocery stores, all alcohol over that percentage must be sold in the government controlled stores known as Vinmonopolet

There are strict times for when you can buy beer or cider in grocery stores with the current law allowing sales until 8pm on weekdays, 6pm on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays and some religious holidays. However in certain municipalities earlier times apply. 

Here you’ll find the available times you are allowed to buy beer in the Oslo region.

And when it comes to the Vinmonopolet there are also strict closing times, which are generally 6pm on weekdays and 3pm on Saturdays. You can find the opening hours of the nearest Vinmonopol location to you here.

What is Vinmonopolet? 

Vinmonopolet is a state-owned company that has the exclusive right to retail sales of stronger alcohol. The aim is is to control the sale of alcohol to the public and ensure it is done responsibly but also to limit profits by companies that produce alcoholic drinks.

Today, there are 331 Vinmonopolet stores in all of Norway and they can be found in 248 municipalities, according to Nettavisen.  

Directly translated, Vinmonopolet means the “wine monopoly”.  But don’t let the specific name confuse you. The shops offers a selection of over 20,000 different products including wine, beer, spirits, and non-alcoholic drinks. 

It may appear out-dated and overly controlled, but if you ask a local how they feel about the sale of alcohol in Norway, most of them are pretty understanding of the system and why it was set up.

Of course, many will share their stories on how frustrated they were for being too late to the store to buy the beer they wanted. But a majority of residents don’t seem to be overly bothered by the restrictions. 

A little history…

When Vinmonopolet was established in 1922, this was primarily a result of trade policy.

After nearly a decade, it became government controlled in an effort to remove private financial interests from alcohol sales as much as possible. This was due to previously revealed corruption and family ties between private agents and Vinmonopolet.

Before the 1990s, the stores were set up for over-the-counter service rather than shoppers being able to pick up their own purchases.

“Poll queues” was the coin termed (which is still used today) for people who would wait in long lines outside the store waiting for their turn to make a purchase.

“I can still remember standing with my dad in line,” says Axsel Lockhart.

“We had to wait for so long because there was only one person working behind the counter and it was their job to go and get the drinks that were on the list we gave to him.” 

Expansion came at the end of the 90s when Vinmonopolet stores became self-service and the product range gradually increased from 2,000 to 20,000.

The move sparked such a turnaround that in 2018 Vinmonopolet ended up in second place in the Norwegian Customer Barometer’s store rankings based on customer satisfaction and loyalty among consumers.

Today, a lot of Vinmonopolet stores will allow you to purchase what you are looking for from their website, and will be delivered to the store for you to pick up (although obviously you’ll need to prove you are old enough to purchase it). 

General rules for buying alcohol in Norway

  • You must be 18 years old to buy or be served any alcoholic drink with a volume percentage of less than 22 percent. For any alcoholic beverage over 22 percent, you must be at least 20.
  • In a bar or restaurant, you are only allowed to order one alcoholic beverage per person at a time.
  • In a restaurant or bar, it is illegal to serve alcohol between the hours of 2am and 9am. On Sundays and religious holidays, establishments are only allowed to serve alcohol from 1pm. Note that these are national regulations. But due to the ongoing pandemic, the rules and times around serving alcohol in restaurants and bars are changing often. 
  • In Norway it is illegal to promote the sale of alcohol through books, publications, and advertisements through the press. This is why you will often find advertisements for popular alcohol-free beer options in bars and restaurants.  
  • You can forget about finding a traditional ‘happy hour’ deal. ‘Two for one’ deals or after 5pm discounts on cocktails, beer, and spirits is unheard of in Norway. It is prohibited to discount the price of alcoholic drinks or give them away as a prize for establishments that have a permit to sell them. 
  • Since 1999 it has been legal to brew your own beer at home for “home use” only but it is still prohibited to sell it without a permit. 

And the prices?

Yes buying alcohol in Norway is expensive, because it is heavily taxed. But the tax is calculated by alcohol percentage and not by price which means that you can actually get some good wines at a decent price.

Tax-free

Buying alcohol at the airport is a popular practice in Norway because one can save a lot of money by not having to pay the high tax rates Norway imposes on the beer, wine, and spirits sold within the country.

In fact, it almost feels shameful to admit to a local you that you waltzed through the airport without buying alcohol at the duty free store.

Some claims suggest you can save up to as much as 60 percent on spirits if you buy them at duty free.

Popular wine and beer brands are often found at a noticeably cheaper price. This only applies if you are coming or going from international travel and the same age limits apply when buying and serving alcohol in the airport. 

You can find information on how much you are allowed to purchase and bring into the country here

Useful vocabulary 

  • lett øl – directly translated means ‘light beer’ , but be aware that if you order a lett øl in Norway, then you have asked for an alcohol-free beer. 
  • stengt – closed
  • åpningstimer – opening hours
  • restriksjoner – restrictions 
  • øl og vin – beer and wine 
  • pol queue – a term used to describe the lines that form outside of the Vinmonopolet.


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