Historical tell tales
Notes from a clergyman, written in the early 19th century, say that a drink of snaps has its opportune moment and a beloved child many names. Indeed we nowadays know our snaps as Firewater, Yodel juice or e.g. Purified. It has an appraised function in working up an appetite but this invigorating “Water of Life” has also had other defined uses ever since medieval times. It has been used for the production of gunpowder, as a method of payment and for medicinal purposes dispensed by privileged pharmacists.
Purified was imported to Sweden from Germany for the production of gunpowder but a manufacturer soon discovered its intoxicating effect when consumed orally. His friends also adopted a liking for the drink and it was subsequently commercialized. Later inventive Swedish soldiers knew how to start manufacturing of Purified during their campaigns in Russia.
During the 16th century Purified had an indication for curing any kind of ailment and affliction including “Aqua Vitae Contra Oppositum” (effective against plague). Tell tales also say that 19th century labor force in some factories and sawmills may have been offered compensation in the form of Purified in addition to a salary.
Distillation for domestic use became very usual in Sweden until larger distilleries covered for the growing demand of 100 million liters for a population of 3 million during the 19th century. The volume is not that surprising taking into account that the daily snaps in fact could be consumed eight times per day from early morning until late evening.
The amazing Lars Olsson Smith
Swedish snaps is strongly linked with one man, L.O. Smith, who spotted the market opportunity and formed partnerships with large existing producers. As a young man, aged around 30, he came to control half of the sales of raw liquor in the whole country. He was also the one to introduce modern production technology with fractional distillation whereby the use of fusel alcohol, that had created impurities and bad taste, could be avoided. The new product was called “Tenfold Purified Vodka” but was later changed to “Absolutely Pure Vodka”. Eventually, in 1979, the brand ABSOLUT VODKA was launched to become the world’s 4th largest international spirit brand selling in 126 countries.
But before that, during the 19th century, L.O. Smith had to prove his natural business skills and fight his way forward in a remarkable way. Born in Scania he attended school for two years but then decided to enter the business world. He had to fight off municipal competition and offered free boat trips to his distillery island where he sold some 1,4 million liters annually. Later when he travelled to Egypt with his family his company faced a hostile take over situation. L.O. Smith decided to rent his own train to get back fast. Using a false beard he arrived with the press and managed to counteract and save the company.
In 1882 the market faced serious overproduction. L.O. Smith decided to continue to offer free boat transfers (three vessels left twice an hour), he undercut prices and launched large advertising campaigns in order to maintain his market position. He was also fast to grab hold of new business opportunities. During a severe shortage of product on the Spanish market he agreed to supply the country with 60 million liters annually. Due to political maneuvers he later had to close all 26 affiliates in Spain and suffered from personal misfortune through divorce and a heart attack. Additionally he entered into a lifelong legal dispute, left the country to travel the world, made another fortune until the war in South Africa ruined his businesses for the second time. L.O. Smith never made a third comeback but returned home to Sweden and passed away in 1913.
During his lifetime Mr. Smith was a very active member of the society. He was a member of parliament, engaged in social reforms, banking, sugar industry, scientific companies and he learnt seven languages during his career. Upon his death he was praised by the press due to his economical talents, his foresight and for the ability to successfully implement new ideas.
What came out of it all?
The brand ABSLOUT VODKA was successfully launched worldwide and Pernod Ricard now sell 500.000 bottles monthly. To make it a success the longest running advertising campaign with input from artists like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and others was launched.
A sizable manufacturing industry has been set up in Scania that supply 75% of all the raw liquor in Sweden.
The Absolut Art Collection is situated in Stockholm (Spritmuseum).
As a proud father of two children I am fond of photographing, designing photo books and writing articles / blogs. Our photo book “Andalusia Our Way” was awarded as the best travel book of the year 2014 by Ifolor, Finland. Our fresh book SCANIA COUNTY has been published and entered a competition in the USA. For the details in this article courtesy is given to Mr. Marcos Cantera Carlomagno at the University of Lund.
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