Nordic By Nature: Six Spirits and How to Mix Them
In the food world, “New Nordic” cuisine has drawn heightened attention as taste-seekers flock to restaurants in Copenhagen, Stockholm and other Northern European cities. The category has proven its place in the drink world, too.
In particular, bartenders have been experimenting with aquavit, the Scandinavian spirit flavored distinctively with caraway, citrus and spice. Crisp vodka has also been a primary export, thanks to natural glaciers and pure, clean water, evidenced by brands like Reyka, Absolut, Purity and Karlsson’s. And liqueurs flavored with local cherries or the salty licorice known as salmiakki are finding their way into glasses, as well.
Thirsty for more? Here are six spirits from around the Nordic region to try right now, teamed with cocktail recipes that showcase their unique characteristics.
Jump Straight to a Recipe
Courtesy Peder Schweigert, general manager, Marvel Bar, Minneapolis.
Heering Cherry Liqueur
The smallest Nordic country features plenty of farmland and orchards, where a particularly aromatic variety of cherries grow. These cherries are crushed, distilled and aged in oak for up to five years, which yields a sweet-tart, ruby-red liqueur. Created by Danish merchant Peter Heering in 1818, Heering Cherry Liqueur adds depth to cocktails from the Blood & Sand to the Singapore Sling.
This warming riff on the classic Remember the Maine cocktail offers pleasing hints of cherry and almond from Heering Cherry Liqueur. Schweigert recommends the rich, spicy notes of Punt e Mes to complement the Heering, or you can substitute your favorite sweet vermouth.
- 2 ounces American whiskey
- ¾ ounce Carpano Punt e Mes
- ¼ ounce Heering Cherry Liqueur
- ⅓ teaspoon St. George Absinthe
Combine all ingredients in stemless wine glass. Stir together with ice.
Courtesy Selma Slabiak, created for The Edda Bar at Aska, Brooklyn, NY
Traditionally, aquavit is a crisp white spirit flavored with herbs and spices like caraway, anise or dill. In some ways, it’s similar to gin or flavored vodka. But Linie is unique: Stored in former Sherry casks, this aquavit takes a sea voyage to Australia and back, crossing the equator, or “linie,w” twice. The result is a bright buttercup hue and mellow vanilla, spearmint, clove and oak tones, plus a silky butterscotch finish.
This Old Fashioned-style drink starts with rye whiskey enriched with Linie Aquavit. Both of these grain-based spirits owe a debt to this drink’s namesake, Gefion, the Norse goddess associated with plowing fields.
- 1 ounce rye whiskey
- ½ ounce Linie Aquavit
- ¼ ounce Amaro Montenegro
- 1 teaspoon honey syrup
- (2 parts honey to 1 part hot water)
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- Sparkling wine
- Nasturtium leaves (or other edible leaves or leafy herbs) for garnish, optional
In mixing glass filled with ice, combine first five ingredients. Stir, and strain into a coupe glass. Top with a splash of sparkling wine. Garnish with nasturtium leaves floated atop the drink.
Adapted from Timo Siitonen, owner, A21 Decades, Helsinki, Finland
With Russia to the east, the most sparsely populated of the Nordic countries has plenty of lakes and glacial spring water—ideal conditions to make vodka. Finlandia, one of the first imported vodkas sold in the U.S., is made from a base of Finnish six-row barley, which has particularly low fatty oil content. The end result is bracing and crisp, with plenty of ginger, coriander and white pepper spice, and a slightly citrusy finish.
Originally conceived by Timo Siitonen, founder of famed Helsinki bar A21 Decades, as a modern gin and tonic, we’ve adapted this slightly to feature vodka. His version is made with tart lingonberries, which grow plentifully in the Scandinavian countries. If you can’t find them, use fresh or frozen cranberries left over from holiday festivities.
- 1½ ounces Finlandia Vodka
- 1 tablespoon lingonberries (or cranberries)
- 1 slice pink grapefruit
- Tonic water
Fill Collins glass with ice. Add berries and grapefruit on top. Measure vodka and pour into glass. Top with tonic, and stir to mix. Serve with straw.
Courtesy Chad Walsh, beverage director, Agern, New York City
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star Single Malt Whisky
It tastes like an extremely light Scotch, but it’s a Swedish single malt named for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and the supernova he discovered in 1572. Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star Single Malt Whisky is produced on Hven (or Ven), a tiny island located between Denmark and Sweden accessible only by boat. In Brahe’s time, it was under Danish rule, though it’s now part of Sweden. The whisky is made from 100-percent barley, but using grains that have been processed three ways: a deep-roasted “chocolate malt” that provides vanilla-cocoa notes, lighter pale-ale malt and a heavily peated malt, which offers a wisp of smoke.
At Agern, owned by Claus Meyer, co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, the food and drinks typically focus on contemporary Scandinavian fare made with local ingredients and spirits. Usually, this drink features Roknar, a Minnesota-made rye whiskey, but the light vanilla-and-spice notes of Tycho’s Star are swapped in here to create a complex sipper.
- ¼ ounce absinthe (to coat glass)
- 2 ounces Spirit of Hven Tycho’s
- Star Single Malt Whisky
- ¼ ounce simple syrup
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- Lemon peel, for garnish
Spritz inside of chilled rocks glass with absinthe (or gently roll absinthe to coat the inside of glass and pour out excess).
In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine whisky, simple syrup and bitters. Stir, then strain into prepared glass over a large cube of ice. Garnish with lemon peel.
Courtesy Chazz Madrigal, beverage director, Lafitte’s at The Waiting Room, Portland, OR
Produced in Iceland, this liqueur channels the mouthwatering flavor of salmiakki, a salty black licorice candy with a bitter finish. It’s made with 10 botanicals, including licorice root, saffron, anise and chicory. Salmiakki-flavored liqueurs are popular throughout Scandinavia (some people infuse aquavit or vodka with a few pieces of candy), but they’re not often seen in the U.S. This version of Salmiakki Dala was formulated by the folks behind Bittermens bitters, and it’s marketed as a “Scandinavian fernet.”
In addition to the pungency of Salmiakki Dala, the other secret ingredient here is a wine-infused salt made by Oregon producer Jacobsen Salt Co. in collaboration with Willamette Valley’s Grochau Cellars. The salt can be purchased online, but you can also substitute unflavored salt.
- 1½ ounces Tennessee whiskey
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- ¼ ounce Salmiakki Dala
- 1 teaspoon Benedictine
- ¹/₈ teaspoon Pinot Noir salt
- Brandied cherry, for garnish
In a mixing glass, stir together all ingredients except garnish with ice. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with brandied cherry speared on a pick.
Courtesy Chaim Dauermann, head bartender, The Up & Up, New York City.
Also produced in Iceland, caraway-accented aquavit is particularly embraced in the country, where it’s the national drink. This bottling, playfully dubbed “the black death” due to its austere ebony label (and perhaps an aquavit-induced hangover or two), is nuanced and refreshing, with a mild, savory scent that suggests dill, fennel seed and pine. Brennivín Aquavit ideal to pair with herring or other savory bites.
The Up & Up was one of the first bars in the U.S. to carry Brennivín, and it continues to showcase the spirit in a wide range of drinks like this one. Cucumber and a hoppy Pilsner pleasingly accent the herbaceousness of the aquavit.
- 3–4 slices cucumber, plus additional slices for garnish
- 1½ ounces Brennivín aquavit
- ½ ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
- ¼ ounce Rabarbaro Zucca amaro
- 1 ounce Stiegl Goldbräu Pilsner
- 1 piece lemon peel
In mixing glass, muddle cucumber slices into juicy pulp. Add next three ingredients and ice. Stir well. Add the beer.
Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Twist lemon peel over the drink to express its oils, then discard. Garnish with remaining cucumber slices.
- 1Remember the Danes Cocktail
- 2The Gefion Cocktail
- 3The Teurastamo V&T Cocktail
- 4The Northern Sazerac Cocktail
- 5The Reverie Cocktail
- 6The Stone Crush Cocktail