When youre looking for a celebratory drink, aquavit might not be the first alcoholic beverage that comes to mind. However, aquavit liquor has a long and illustrious history as the first choice for many holidays and special occasions, especially in Norway and other Scandinavian countries.
What is Aquavit
Aquavit is an alcoholic drink distilled either from grain or, more commonly, potatoes. It normally is flavored with caraway seeds in the United States — which is why its flavor reminds many drinkers of rye bread. However, in other places, aquavit can come flavored with grains of:
- paradise (a pungent, peppery spice).
One Danish distillery even makes a variety flavored with amber! For all its variety, aquavit is basically a flavored version of vodka.
Some aquavit drinkers prefer the drink from younger casks. Others, like most drinkers in Norway, prefer it aged. Aquavit”s color can range anywhere from clear to dark brown, but most of the time its yellow. Usually, darker aquavit is older, although sometimes artificial coloring is added. However, keep in mind that Taffel aquavit is aged in casks that add no color at all. As a result, color isn”t a good indicator of age or quality.
One particular type of aquavit, called Linie aquavit, is actually shipped over the equator, twice, before its makers put it up for sale (The word”Linie” means “equator”). The producers of Linie aquavit claim that the sea air, temperature fluctuations and the motion of the ships produce a finer aquavit.
Other people scorn the Linie process as an advertising gimmick. However, tests conducted by distillers of Linie aquavit have led the distillers to believe that the taste of the liquor is positively affected by the journey over the equator.
The History of Aquavit
Aquavit, sometimes called akvavit or akevitt, has been in mixologists repertoire since the mid-16th century at least. Some letters from that time period praise the health benefits of “Aqua Vite.” In reality, the name comes from the Latin words “aqua” and “vitae,” meaning “water of life” (not “aqua” and “vite,” which means “water of the vine”). During the early years of its existence, most people used aquavit for its medicinal properties. Ironically, some even claimed that it was a cure for alcoholism!
Today, many drinkers of aquavit still believe that it helps the imbiber digest rich food. This might be the reason that its use is common in Scandinavian countries on important holidays, like Christmas or Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17, Norways celebration of its official foundation as an independent nation). These meals typically feature very fatty meats, like pork ribs and stickmeat (lambs ribs).
In Sweden, aquavit is a staple during the appetizer course in midsummer meals. Swedes have many drinking songs that are meant to accompany the combination of aquavit and smoked fish.
How to Drink Aquavit
Aquavit is usually taken straight up. Some drinkers prefer it in shots, a glass at a time, because they find the taste of aquavit difficult to accommodate. Aquavit lovers, however, prefer to drink it slowly to get the full benefit of the aquavits nuanced flavors and scent. Some drinkers chase aquavit with beer; others think this ruins the aquavits flavor.
People from Norway prefer aquavit at room temperature. In other places, its usually taken chilled, often in stemmed glasses so the drinkers hand doesnt warm the drink.
Aquavit cocktail recipes are rare but not unknown. Classic Hollywood movie star Rosalind Russell supposedly gave a recipe to the author of the Stork Club Bar Book.
Rosalind Russell”s Aquavit Recipe
- 2 oz. aquavit
- 1 oz. dry vermouth
- A twist of lemon peel.
- Shake the vermouth and aquavit in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Garnish with the lemon peel.
Sailor Mercury Recipe
- 1 ? oz. aquavit
- 1 oz. orange liqueur
- 1 oz. lemon juice
- Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
- Strain into a brandy snifter and enjoy!
These recipes may take some of the edge off the taste of aquavit for those new to its distinct flavor. Many aquavit-lovers insist, however, that the liquor”s taste is best enjoyed without accompaniment.