Aquavit Primer: the Scandinavian Spirit


[Flickr: retroads]

In today's Washington Post, Jason Wilson takes a fresh look at that old Scandinavian bone-warmer, aquavit.

Wilson writes that while the Danes and Swedes may keep a bottle of aquavit in the freezer for serving as an ice-cold shot, a recent trip to Norway taught him that things are done much differently there.

When he mentioned keeping his bottle of Linie in the freezer, like his Danish friends do, Wilson took a dressing down from Frithjof Nicolaysen, a representative from the Arcus distillery.

"It goes all the way to Australia and back to age, then you put it in the freezer!" Nicolaysen said, referring to Arcus' practice of maturing its signature Linie Aquavit in sherry oak barrels during a globe-trotting ocean voyage. "Good God, that's a sacrilege for those of us who make it!"

Derived from the Latin aqua vitae, or water of life, aquavit has been made throughout northern Europe for centuries. Typically made from grain or potato spirits, aquavit may be flavored with a number of different botanicals, giving the spirit a savory, herbaceous character. Caraway is one defining example, though aquavit may also include dill, fennel, clove, cardamom and other herbs and spices.

A number of regional styles may be found in Northern Europe. In the U.S., familiar brands include Linie from Norway, Aalborg from Denmark and O.P. Anderson from Sweden.

While the savory flavor of aquavit can seem odd at first taste, the spirit has gained some attention among American drinkers. North Shore Distillery, near Chicago, and House Spirits in Portland, Oregon, both make distinctive aquavits, and in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood—long a home for the city's Scandinavian community—the restaurant and bar Copper Gate (note: the website is NSFW) offers several types of aquavit including a house-made preparation.

I have to admit, I haven't explored aquavit as much as I should. I have bottles of O.P. Anderson and Krogstad in my liquor closet, which I break out for the occasional Trident or to drink alongside homemade gravlax, but I haven't really explored the range of flavors and styles.

Are you an aquavit fan? What's your favorite style, and how do you like to serve it?