Enjoy the Water of Life, Akvavit
Akvavit (or aquavit) is a Scandinavian liquor that should be on everyone’s home bar. In general, it is a neutral spirit that is distilled from either grain or potatoes. After distillation, the base spirit is always flavored with caraway. That is the hallmark flavors of all akvavits. Beyond caraway, akvavits are flavored with dill, anise, coriander, cardamom, fennel, cumin, and citrus peel. In short, it’s a savory flavor-bomb that is wonderful as a base spirit in cocktails.
However, you won’t find akvavit in most classic cocktail books, which is crazy since the first written record of akvavit occurred in 1531. Back then, Danish Lord Eske Bille of Bergenhus Caste wrote a letter to the Norwegian bishop Olav Engelbrektsson and included a spiced-liquor with medicinal powers. Are you seeing a medicinal trend here? Yet, even with almost 500 years of existence, akvavit has generally been drunk neat, often with a beer chaser. Cocktails were an afterthought.
Luckily for you, that has changed over the past ten plus years. Top cocktail bars have embraced akvavit and you should too.
Styles and producers
The Swedish, Danish, and Norwegians all have their own styles. Some are clear, some are barrel-aged, and some are sweet. The liquor can be distilled from either grain or potatoes.
For this post, we are focusing on two distilleries, Aalborg and Lysholm.
Aalborg is a Danish akvavit that takes its name from the town of Aalborg, which is a hotbed for akvavit distilleries. Aalborg’s taffel akvavit is the best selling akvavit of the Aalborg range. If you see the word taffel on an akvavit bottle, then it is a clear version of akvavit. Aalborg’s taffel comes in at 45% ABV. It has aromas and flavors of caraway, orange, lemon, dill, anise, and fennel.
The Lysholm trading family has been distilling their Linie aquavit since 1805, when they shipped potato aquavit to the East Indies with no interested buyers. Those shipments returned to Norway in 1807, and to much fanfare. Since then, Linie has been sent on a boat across the world to mature, crossing the equator twice on each journey. The back of each Linie bottle show the current voyage each bottle takes across the equator twice. Linie is a potato aquavit that is aged in sherry oak casks, which provide Linie with color, sweetness, and vanilla. It has aromas and flavors of caraway, star anise, dill, fennel, and coriander. The ABV is 41.5%.
How to use akvavit in cocktails
The oversimplified take would be to say that you could use akvavit in lieu of gin where you want to replace juniper with caraway. While that not entirely incorrect, I don’t think that gives enough respect to each spirit. Still, I’m going to resist my urge to explain the nuances of gin, and instead focus on what to do with akvavit.
Because of its caraway, dill, and coriander flavors, akvavit makes an incredible Bloody Mary. Bypass vodka and go with Aalborg taffel to enhance whatever spices are in the Bloody Mary mix.
Aalborg taffel is also great with dill and citrus. Make a light refreshing cocktail with fresh herbs, citrus, and whatever else you got laying around the house.
If you are using Linie, you can play off the aging and oak notes and use in cocktails that generally call for bourbon. David Wondrich created an Old-Fashioned style cocktail called the Old Bay Bridge that is worth checking out.
There are plenty of other ways to play with akvavit in cocktails, and the following are two of our favorite akvavit cocktails.
Yay, cocktail time!
Nate Dumas created the Occidental cocktail at PDT (Please Don't Tell) in New York City. Jim Meehan’s book, The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartenders Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy, includes the recipe provided below.
2 oz Linie aquavit
¾ oz Grand Marnier
½ oz Amaro Nonino
1 barspoon Fernet-Branca
Combine all ingredients except for the Fernet-Branca in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Stir. In a chilled coupe, add the Fernet-Branca and swirl the glass around so the Frenet coats the sides. Drink the Fernet (or pour it out, but we don’t like to waste alcohol). Strain the mixing glass contents into the Fernet rinsed coupe glass.
Next up . . .
The following cocktail is a Teakwood Tavern Original. It combines our love of akvavit, vermouth, and bitters. Be sure to use a blanc vermouth and not a dry vermouth. You want the sweetness of the vermouth to balance out the savory notes from the akvavit. The cardamom and celery bitters work with the aromatics of the akvavit and bring everything together in perfect harmony.
1 oz Linie aquavit
1 oz Aalborg taffel akvavit
1 oz Cocchi Americano
2 dashes Fee Brothers cardamom bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers celery bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Stir.
Strain the mixing glass contents into a chilled coupe.
We suspect that you will see more and more akvavit cocktails at your local watering holes. It has a rich history, which is always a fun sell; it is packed with flavors that are not represented in other liquors, which makes it unique; and it generally comes in above 40% ABV, which is always fun. But you don’t have to rely on your local mixologists to share their takes on this delicious liquor. Go grab a bottle and explore it on your own. At the very least, try it in Bloody Mary's; we're confident you will be hooked from there.
Sending savory and spiced love to all,