Norway has, as a number of other countries/states, a monopoly when it comes to off-sales of alcohol. A government-owned company runs a chain of stores covering the entire country, and all alcoholic beverages above 4,75% abv. can only be sold here.
The chain, called Vinmonopolet, will by the end of the year have 244 stores – this will result in 94% of the population not having to travel more than 30km to reach a store. Most of these are small stores with a extremely limited assortement (the smalles carry as little as six whiskies, whereof only one is a Single Malt).
In total just over 300 different brands of whisky are for sale at Vinmonopolet at the time of me writing this, around 200 of these are Single Malts (from Scotland, Sweden, Japan, France, New Zeeland, Wales and India). And this is where one of the advantages of the state run monopoly comes in effect – shipping.
If the whisky you desire isn’t available in your local shop they can order it for you, for no extra cost to you as a customer. It takes about a week (if the importer has it in stock), but who’s in a hurry when it comes to good whisky. So the whole 200 brands of Malt Whisky are readily available for the same price over the entire country – at the excact same price. Ordering can also be done on-line, but here a 30 NOK extra charge is added to every order and if you want it delivered by post of courier (limited availability) postage is also added.
A couple of quirks inside this system has emerged the last couple of years. Two stores (one in Oslo and one in Bergen) has been designanted “Wine Cellar Stores” and can stock priducts from a “special assortement-list”. This list mainly products that have in imported in small quantities (eg. two cases of whisky). To reduce the costs of a normal listing (where the importer might have to cover the costs of shipping a single bottle across the country) they can offer it to these two shops – thereby reducing the transport costs. At any time 10-20 whiskies (mainly Single Malts) are available in this way, but what these are is never published. It can only be discovered by visiting the two stores and seeing it with ones own eyes or calling the store and hoping to get someone who actually knows what whisky is on the line.
Some products on this special list can also be ordered by normal consumers, but is time consuming and not guaranteed to be successful. The list is supposed to be available in all stores, but the reality is that very few stores actually know this (or have ever heard of the list). If one gets ones hands on the list and want to make an order, it’s up to the importer to decide if he wants to sell to you. The method of ordering is to send an email to Vinmonopolet and tell them what one wants, where one wants to pick it up and who imports it. The whole process can take up to two or three months.
Visitors to Norway must remember that Vinmonopolet doesn’t take any forms of credit card as payment in their stores – cash or Norwegian debit card only. This summer a test project is under way, where 14 shops (with a high number of foreign customers) has been allowed to accept payment with credit card – these shops are located in areas that receive many tourists. The shops are located in: Hammerfest, Drøbak, Lillehammer, Nøtterøy, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Voss, Trysil, Stryn, Ålesund, Hitra and two in Oslo (Briskeby and Vika).
Getting whisky into the country from abroad, now that’s quite another kettle of fish.