Guide to Vinmonopolet
The sale of alcohol in Norway is tightly regulated and highly taxed. Outside of licensed cafés, restaurants and bars, alcoholic beverages above 4.7% ABV can only be sold through the government-owned liquor stores, called Vinmonopolet (“The Wine Monopoly”). If you like a drink, my #UltimateCheapskate recommendation is to bring booze from home. Alternatively you can pick some up from duty-free on your way to Norway. If you’re just looking to pick up a few beers or you love the occasional Smirnoff Ice you can do that at a supermarket within set times.
Shopping at Vinmonopolet
To buy wine, spirits, or strong beer you will need to find your closest Vinmonopolet. Stores usually close at 6 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. on Saturdays, but there can be special opening hours around public holidays. If you’re planning a Sunday session make sure you stock up on Saturday as all stores are closed Sundays, as well as public holidays.
To find a store, visit the Vinmonopolet website and either search for “Oslo” or, if you’re already in town, click “Finn mitt nærmeste vinmonopol” to find the nearest one. Click on a location to see the address and opening hours. There are plenty of stores around the centre of Oslo, including in the central train station and in the basement of the Oslo City shopping mall. If I’m in the centre, I like the nice new store next to the food court in the basement of the Steen & Strøm department store.
Tip For gin drinkers: Vinmonopolet sells Fever Tree tonic water cheaper than the Meny supermarkets.
The legal drinking age in Norway is 18, but note that if you are under 20 you are limited to buying beer and wine (technically it's drinks under 22%). If you’re under 25 you should automatically present your ID at the checkout and if you look anything under 30, make sure you have it with you as you may be asked to present it.
If you are curious about how Vinmonopolet works, I’ve gone into a bit more depth below.
Why are alcohol prices so high?
Being run by the state, Vinmonopolet is very transparent regarding their pricing model. These numbers below, taken directly from their website, show where all your money goes.
Example: A 700ml bottle of spirits, 41.5% ABV.
Retail price: 404.90 NOK
Wholesaler’s nett price: 85.55 NOK
Alcohol tax: 212.36 NOK
Sales tax: 80.98 NOK
Environment & packaging tax: 1.71 NOK
Vinmonopolet’s gross profit: 24.32 NOK
A bottle of my favourite tipple, gin, might cost just 85.55 NOK from the wholesaler but is then hit with 295.05 NOK in taxes. That is a whopping 73% of the retail price. Ouch. The wholesale cost and Vinmonopolet’s share make up the rest.
What are the downsides?
From a gin drinker’s perspective, the selection can be limited at times. You also need to remember to buy your booze inside the Vinmonopolet opening hours. As a resident you adjust to it pretty quickly, but as a tourist it can be a bit rough if you decide you want a bottle of wine at 4 p.m. on a Saturday. You’re either staying sober until Monday morning or blowing a lot of kroner out on the town.
What are the benefits?
With all liquor and wine sold from the same retailer, you can be sure that you are paying the market rate. There's no need to price compare between bottle shops here. Because all the purchasing is centralised, wine snobs can get their fancy wines much cheaper than they would in other countries.
You also get what you pay for. Because all of the products stocked by Vinmonopolet are taste-tested and approved you can generally rely on the products being of high quality. It’s nice to know that when you are spending a bit more on a bottle of wine, it’s for a better bottle of wine and not because of better marketing.
There is a good website and decent app for shopping online. If your local store doesn’t have what you want, you can order it in. They also deliver to your home.
All the staff are well-trained and educated in what they are selling. They can ably assist you to find the right bottle of booze for your needs and budget. There is also no reason for Vinmonopolet or the employees to favour a specific product based on anything but its quality, as there is no motive to make a profit or incentives from wholesalers.
To summarise, the high prices suck, but at least the quality of service is reasonably good.