Aquavit – Exploring the Nordic Spirit  

 

THURSDAY 4TH APRIL 2024 | BY SAM WILSON, SOHO STORE MANAGER

 

Aquavit, a quintessential Nordic spirit, has a rich history and diverse varieties across Scandinavia. Let's delve into this beloved drink, exploring its origins, regional differences, and cultural significance.


Aquavit's roots date back to the 15th century when it was initially developed for medicinal purposes by alchemists and monks. Over time, it transitioned into a popular alcoholic beverage enjoyed during social gatherings and celebrations. The term "Aquavit" is derived from the Latin phrase "aqua vitae," meaning "water of life," reflecting its early reputation as a healing elixir. By EU law; Aquavit is a spirit that must be distilled with caraway and/or dill (Seed). It must also be bottled to at least 37.5%. The caraway or dill used is the ‘juniper’ to a gin, giving it its unique flavour profile.


Each Scandinavian country has its own unique take on Aquavit, with distinct flavours, production methods, and cultural significance.

 

Danish Aquavit

In Denmark, Aquavit is affectionately known as "Snaps." Danish Aquavits, such as Copenhagen and Aalborg, are typically light and clear, made from grains and infused with caraway or dill seeds.

Often served as a chilled shot or alongside traditional dishes like herring and smørrebrød (an open-faced sandwich using sourdough rye bread). Danish Aquavit embodies the spirit of celebration and camaraderie. Also, Danish aquavit is less aged than the offerings from the likes of Sweden. This gives more purity and freshness.

 

Bottles to note:

Copenhagen Long Pepper - Distilled with long pepper & dill seeds. The long pepper provides a soft and fruity expression, with an undeniable pepper spice.

Aalborg Taffel - is an unaged aquavit and has flavours of mustard seed & orange. it has a pure caraway bouquet. Considered Denmark’s most popular version.

Aalborg Dild – Fresh green dill & lemon. Crisp and light. Alongside herbaceous dill theres a hint of sweetness, perfect to match with fish.

Swedish Aquavit

Across the waters in Sweden, Aquavit is referred to as "Brannvin" or "snaps." Brands like Hven, OP Anderson, and Gammal Norrlands showcase the Swedish approach to this beloved spirit. Swedish Aquavits are typically grain-based and may feature a variety of botanicals.

Swedish Aquavit can often spend more time in barrels, resulting in a smoother, more rounded style with light notes of wood spice and vanilla associated with barrel ageing. In Sweden, Aquavit is deeply ingrained in traditional celebrations and rituals, often enjoyed during festive occasions such as Midsummer and Christmas gatherings.

 

Bottles to note:

Spirit of Hven Aquavit  – barrel-aged for two years, oaky and very approachable. This is a great introduction, especially for the whisky or rum drinker. Organic caraway, dill, St. John’s wort and citrus peel make up the botanicals.  

O.P. Anderson Original Aquavit – A classical Swedish combination of caraway, anise and fennel. Sweden’s oldest and most bought version. A first-rate, award- winning Aquavit. Also popular in Denmark.

O.P. Anderson Klar Aquavit – Dill, caraway and anise flavour this bold spirit, is also rested in barrels for 6 months to round out the edges. But still fresh and spicy. Most often drunk with fish and shellfish.

Norwegian Aquavit

Norway boasts its own unique tradition of Aquavit, with brands like Linie and Opland leading the way. Norwegian Aquavits are often distilled from potatoes and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of six months, with some varieties requiring a full year of ageing.

Linie, Norway's most famous Aquavit, undergoes a unique ageing process wherein oak barrels are sent on a maritime journey, crossing the equator twice before returning home. This distinctive method imparts a rich, complex flavour profile.

 

Bottles to note:

Linie Aquavit Authentic  – Aged in oak barrels that are put on trade ships and sailed around the world. Classic Linie is aged in Oloroso sherry casks and has prominent notes of caraway and star anise and delicate hints of vanilla and sherry.

Gammel Opland Aquavit – This amazing spirit is caraway forward but two years of cask ageing imparts a sweet, creamy vanilla to the overall flavour profile. This is considered the perfect sipping Aquavit. 

Opland Small Batch Beer Cask Aquavit – this exciting special edition is a result of a barrel exchange with craft brewer Nøgne Ø. Beer barrel finishing adds rich, malty, chocolate complexity to the core caraway, citrus and liquorice flavours.

Icelandic and Finnish Aquavit

In Iceland, Aquavit is known as Brennivin, distinguished by its dominant flavours of caraway and cumin. While Finland is not traditionally associated with Aquavit, it is the world's largest producer of caraway, hinting at the potential for growth in the Finnish Aquavit scene.

Craft producers are beginning to make waves, introducing innovative takes on this classic spirit and expanding its reach beyond traditional borders.

 

Food Pairings
Pairing Aquavit with the right food can enhance the flavours of both the spirit and the dish, creating a harmonious dining experience. A number of perfect pairings are: herring, smoked salmon, rye bread and cheese, spicy cuisine and charcuterie. Aquavit is increasingly popular in cocktails. Merely swap out the vodka and gin to have a memorable alternative to these classics: Negroni, Collins, Bloody Mary.

 

The Future of Aquavit
As interest in craft spirits continues to rise, Aquavit finds itself poised for a renaissance. With its rich history, diverse flavour profiles, and cultural significance, Aquavit offers a unique and captivating drinking experience for enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Whether enjoyed neat, as a chilled shot, or as a versatile cocktail ingredient, Aquavit invites us to raise a glass and toast to the spirit of Scandinavia.

Skål!