When you’re 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.
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 it’s 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.
In both the Scandinavian countries and northern Germany, aquavit is usually served chilled and unmixed, in small glasses, and is usually accompanied by appetizers or sandwiches; it is the traditional accompaniment to a smorgasbord.
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 aquavit’s nuanced flavors and scent. Some drinkers chase aquavit with beer; others think this ruins the aquavit’s flavor.
People from Norway prefer aquavit at room temperature. In other places, it’s usually taken chilled, often in stemmed glasses so the drinker’s hand doesn’t warm the drink.
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, Norway’s celebration of its official foundation as an independent nation). These meals typically feature very fatty meats, like pork ribs and stickmeat (lamb’s 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.
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).
Aquavit is a distilled liquor, clear to pale yellow in colour, dry in flavour, and ranging in alcohol content from about 42% to 45% abv. It is distilled from a fermented potato or grain mash, redistilled in the presence of flavouring agents, filtered with charcoal, and usually bottled without aging. Various aromatic flavourings are employed, usually including caraway or cumin seed; lemon or orange peel, cardamom, aniseed, and fennel also may be used. One Danish distillery even makes a variety flavored with amber! For all its variety, aquavit is basically a flavored version of vodka.
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.
More information on Linie Aquavit
Swedish and Norwegian aquavits are sweet and spicy and of straw colour. Sweden is the largest producer, manufacturing about 20 brands.Norway’s production, comparatively low, includes Linie Aquavit, so called because it is shipped to Australia and back (across the Equator, or Line) in oak containers to produce mellow flavour.
Finnish aquavit has a cinnamon flavour. The Danish product, also called snaps, is colourless, with a pronounced caraway flavour. One of the best known Danish types is Ålborg akvavit, named for a small town in Jutland, on Denmark’s northern coast. The only brand exported from Denmark, it is produced by Danish Distilleries, a private organization granted the sole right to produce alcohol and yeast since 1927 under a monopoly of the Danish government.