This crisp spirit, produced mainly in Scandinavia, has received a boost from the rising tide of interest in “New Nordic” cuisine. It’s no wonder, as aquavit pairs so well with smoked fish, cheeses and pickled vegetables.
What’s the allure of aquavit?
“It has a lot of versatility and wide range of flavorings,” says Jacob Grier, a Portland, Oregon-based bartender and founder of Aquavit Week, which is celebrated each December. “The range of botanicals is so wide—caraway, dill, anise, cumin—and it can be aged or not aged. So whatever you like, it’s probably available.”
Whether you spot it on the menu of a Scandinavian restaurant or want to give it a try at home, here’s what you need to know about aquavit.
Similar to gin or a flavored vodka, aquavit starts as a base spirit (usually potato or neutral grain) that’s flavored with caraway—the seed best known here for adding pungency to rye bread. In addition, many aquavits are flavored with citrus peel and herbs and spices like dill, anise or cardamom. Most are clear, but a growing number of producers age aquavit in barrels, creating a light honey hue.
It’s made in Scandinavia—but not only there.
Traditionally, it’s made in Scandinavian countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden. But an increasing number of American producers, particularly those with Scandinavian heritage, are making variations, often with local botanicals that aren’t so traditional.
“It’s best served chilled, so store it in your freezer,” Grier says. The exception is barrel-aged aquavit, which Grier recommends serving at room temperature.
Chilled shots are part of Scandinavian heritage, often accompanied by “Skål” as a toast. Herbal aquavits work well in Bloody Mary-type drinks, as well as a new-classic cocktail called the Trident: equal parts aquavit, fino Sherry and Cynar, plus a couple dashes of peach bitters.
This aquavit is placed in oloroso Sherry casks and then sailed from Norway to Australia, aging for about four months (linie means “line,” as in the line of the equator). Look for notes of vanilla, anise and orange peel.
This pungent, caraway-forward aquavit—referred to locally as “Black Death” due to the foreboding black label—is famed as the favorite tipple of Foo Fighters rocker Dave Grohl.
Krogstad Festlig (Portland, Oregon)
Made by House Spirits, a pioneer among American aquavit makers, this crisp, crystal-clear version shows plenty of star anise and is particularly cocktail friendly.
Old Ballard Älskar (Seattle)
Flavored with coriander, caraway and grains of paradise, this Swedish-style, citron-flavored aquavit is intended to pair with oysters, mussels and other fresh shellfish.
The first malted aquavit nods to genever, with a warming, malty core accented by dill, caraway and lemon peel.