History / Lifestyle

The Story of the Finnish Long Drink

Starting as a temporary fix for the 1952 Olympics, the Finnish Long Drink (or lonkero) is now one half of Finland’s glue…

Xander Brett

Good news! It’s a gin and tonic but, technically, it’s not a cocktail. Still, if you make a long drink at home, don’t think you can get away with it too early. Go generous with the gin and you’ll need a long lie down. The Finnish long drink (or lonkero) began life in 1952, when Finland was preparing to host the Olympic games. Finland had been living under prohibition until 1932, but the laws were still strict twenty years on. Alcohol over 5.5 per cent could – and still can – be bought only from the state-run (delightfully named) ‘Alko’ shops. For the Olympics, however, The Ministry of Health agreed to temporarily discard brown paper bags, giving the celebratory nation two new drinks: gin/grapefruit and brandy/ Pommac (Nordic Cognac). They needed something to keep Finns happy, and to serve quickly to arrivals. It worked. So well, in fact, that Finland kept them on the shelves, and the concept spread to the rest of Europe, Asia and North America.

When Finland joined the European Union in 1995, it arranged a deal to keep the alcohol monopoly in place. A government production monopoly, however, was no longer permitted. This meant the introduction of several long drink brands, each by different companies: pent up and ready to experiment. Some used lemons, replacing grapefruit. Others used fermentation, replacing spirits. The 2000s also saw the reintroduction of the brandy long drink, off shelves since the 1970s. It was a free-for-all, but one company emerged victorious. Since 2007, Hartwall’s Original Long Drink has been Alko’s most popular product, outselling Koskenkorva vodka, one of the country’s oldest spirits. A ferry crossing, drinks in the garden or a meet-up in the square: none, now, are complete without a tin of Hartwall. Finland is a new country, and a strange place. In the absence of Jante Law, it seems, genuinely, to bound only by sweaty saunas and refreshing drinks. Never mind, good for them.

This article has also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.

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