Food & Drink

What is Julmust? All About The Swedish Christmas Soda

Every November in Sweden, a caramel-colored beverage materializes in the soft drink aisle, pushing aside the usual favorites and giving Coke a marketing migraine. What magical drink is consumed by the millions across the country each year?

It’s julmust, the non-alcoholic Christmas soda. What on earth is a “Christmas soda” you ask? We’ve got all the answers, including what the word julmust means, what is the flavor of julmust, and where to buy it.

Let’s dive in (not literally, of course) to this beloved seasonal drink and find out what it’s all about.

 
 

What is julmust?

Before we get into the niche Nordic beverage, let’s first talk about the name julmust.
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In Swedish, jul (pronounced “YOU-le”) means Christmas and must translates to juice. Technically, it’s juice slated for alcoholic fermentation and, in actuality, there isn’t even any of it in the soda! When julmust was invented by Harry Roberts (don’t worry, we’ll get to him next) it was actually called julöl, or Christmas beer.

Roberts later changed the name to appeal to a prohibition-minded audience, but it’s not entirely clear why he landed on the word “must.”

So what is this Christmas juice drink without any actual juice? It’s a carbonated, non-alcoholic malt-based beverage.

 
Julmust Fun Fact

Swedes consume around 40 million liters of julmust every Christmas. That’s about 40 liters per person per year!

 

 
 

The origins of julmust

The story behind Sweden’s signature Christmas soda begins with a crackdown on spirits and a fact-finding trip to Germany.

In the early 1900s, Robert Roberts, a well-known teetotaler, sent his son Harry to study chemistry in Berlin. Harry was tasked by his father with one very specific mission: to develop an alcohol-free Christmas beer for the Swedish market. When Harry returned in 1910, he launched AB Roberts, a soft drink company that produced a range of effervescent drinks, including Roberts Julöl.

Swedes did not immediately take to the drink; sales of the beer alternative were pretty slow in the first few years. When alcohol was banned in Sweden in 1922, the Christmas “beer” really took hold across the country.

The original father-son company, AB Roberts, is still in operation and has a complete monopoly on the essence used to make julmust. This means that any company who produces julmust in Sweden must procure the flavoring for the Christmas drink from the Roberts family.

 
Julmust Fun Fact

In 2015, a rumor spread that a proposed ban on caramel colorings in the EU would mean that Sweden would have to stop making julmust. Swedes were more than a little distraught by the prospect of losing this culinary tradition, but thankfully, the legislation did not include the Christmas soda.

 
 

What does julmust taste like?

Ask any Swede what julmust tastes like and they’ll probably say: “like Christmas!” (and maybe Easter as well, since the drink is rebranded as påskmust for Easter every year).

To foreigners who haven’t grown up on the stuff, however, the flavor is reminiscent of a sugary-sweet root beer or spiced malt drink. Only three people in the world are said to know AB Roberts’ julmust essence recipe and, much like Coca Cola, it’s a heavily guarded secret.

 
Julmust Fun Fact

In Sweden, påskmust (Easter juice) and julmust are the exact same drink. Other than the label, there is no difference.

 

 
 

Where to buy julmust

In Sweden, julmust can be found in local grocery stores throughout the holiday season, typically from November.

There are few places to buy julmust outside of Sweden, most of which can be found via beverage distributors online. Search for Nygårda and Apotekarnes, the two most popular julmust brands, or try your local IKEA! They usually stock it under the name Vintersaga.

Buy julmust in the UK
Buy julmust in the USA
Buy julmust in the EU and worldwide

 

Want more on Swedish Christmas? Find out about the Swedish Christmas decorations, Swedish Christmas traditions, Swedish food, and Swedish candy.