L.O. Smith’s Swedish competitors

We often think of L.O. Smith as Sweden’s one and only vodka king. But in fact he was far from the only producer of vodka and other alcoholic drinks. Get to know Smith’s competitors in Sweden. Some of them were even known as local vodka kings!

Sven A. Hellerström, Karlshamn
The first person to introduce regular heat treatment of spirits in Sweden was probably the wholesaler Sven A. Hellerström in Karlshamn. He had become familiar with this technique as a student in Leipzig and Dresden.

In 1866, Hellerström modernized his distillery at Ågatan in Karlshamn. He acquired a German steam-powered column still that increased his production rate seven times. At the same time, the number of employees went up from three to seven. He soon encountered a problem, however. Hellerström may have been the first in Sweden to use heat treatment, but he was not the only one, nor did he make use of the technique in the best way. In Stockholm, Smith had started to make his absolutely purified vodka, which quickly became the Swedes’ favorite liquor.

In 1876, Hellerström was too ill to run his business and sold the factory in Karlshamn to Smith. Apparently Hellerström later regretted the sale so badly that he refused to walk along the street where the factory was located. One year after selling the factory to Smith, Hellerström passed away in Bonn.

Erik Rehnberg, Söderköping
In 1860, the 19-year-old Erik Rehnberg in Söderköping obtained the rights to serve vodka and other alcoholic drinks at an auction. He founded his own company and in 1862, he was ready to start using the license he had acquired.
In 1867, Rehnberg took over a tavern at the Rådhustorget square and developed it into one of the most well-known restaurants in Sweden. Rehnberg bought the rectified spirit (base alcohol) for his products from Motala Spritbolag and other local distilleries. He purified it as much as he could using the established coal cleaning method.

The purified liquor was then flavored in various ways and bottled. The bottles came from Reijmyre Glasbruk, where Rehnberg had contacts. He offered a range of flavors, including double bitter orange, double cumin, strawberry, ruta, and the so-called Landtmannapartiet (a political party) special mix. In addition to vodka, Rehnberg produced different types of wine, made from local ingredients such as blueberries, cherries, apples and gooseberries. Last but not least, he also sold the classic Swedish drink punsch.

Erik Rehnberg died in 1905. The company was successfully managed by his son-in-law until it was bought by the state-owned company Vin- och Spritcentralen in 1917. The company building was demolished in the 1920s. Today, the premises are used by Sweden’s centralized liquor company Systembolaget.

Gustaf Litström, Falun
Falun, a city in the county of Dalarna in central Sweden, had its own particular vodka tradition. Wealthy mountaineers at the local Stora Kopparberget mountain often invited their guests for a strong but sweet type of vodka. In the early 1800s, sisters Sofia (b. 1786) and Sara Lena Bovin (b. 1788) became the first to manufacture and sell their version of the drink. Known as Falubrännvin, it was flavored with bitter orange and plum. When the sisters emigrated to Bishop Hill in the USA in 1846, they took the secret recipe with them. However, this did not prevent the beverage producer Erik Gustaf Litström to use the established brand to create his own version. This blend was flavored with bitter orange peel, anise, fennel, cumin, lemon oil, sugar and plum.

Litströms Äkta Falubrännvin was highly appreciated and even received several awards – for example medals at the world exhibitions in Paris 1855 and in London 1862 as well as at the General Industrial and Art Exhibition in Stockholm 1866. Falubrännvin’s special seasoning made it a lot sweeter than Smith’s absolutely purified vodka, and it was not to everyone’s taste.

When Litström passed away, his son Axel Fredrik founded a chemical factory in Falun. The 22-year-old pharmacist used the factory to produce Äkta Falubrännvin, among other things. In 1892, Axel Fredrik registered Äkta Falubrännvin as a trademark. In 1917, the brand was bought by AB Vin and Spritcentralen, which manufactured and sold Falubrännvin until 1972.

O.P. Andersson & Son, Gothenburg
Olof Peter Anderson – or O.P., as he was called – was born in Trollhättan in 1797. When he was 17 years old, he moved to Gothenburg where he started working as an apprentice in a chemical shop. Seven years later, in 1823, he started his own company with chemicals and building materials.

O.P. Anderson was a man of many talents, and something of an entrepreneur. In addition to his hardware store, he owned ships and several properties in central Gothenburg. Having learnt how to distil spirits in the chemical industry, he started vodka production on a small scale. From the 1850s, O.P. and his son Carl August ran the company O.P. Andersson & Son. Around this time, people started investing in large-scale production of spirits.

When O.P. died in 1876, Carl August took over the company. He invested in modern distillation equipment that enabled him to produce four million liters of vodka per year. Fifteen years after his father’s death, Carl August launched O.P. Anderson Aquavit. Seasoned with cumin, anise and fennel and with a distinct oak barrel character, it was introduced at the Gothenburg exhibition in 1891. It was an immediate success. Today, it is one of Sweden’s oldest vodkas still in production.