All About Aquavit
When I first conceived the idea to write about aquavit (also known as akvavit), I knew about two; the American made Krogstad from House Spirits in Portland, Oregon and “that Euro stuff.” Aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit that can be made with grain or potatoes. In the last few years when people asked me about aquavit, I described it “like a gin” but instead of juniper, the dominant botanical would be caraway. Later I would find others flavored with dill, anise and fennel.
By no means is this a comprehensive aquavit story but even I was surprised as I started seeking out aquavit, how many I found.
Back in 2017, NPR wrote a story that there are more than 50 American aquavits now. Fifty! Usually when a new distillery starts out, they make a vodka or gin (or both) to start selling as they age other spirits. It seems aquavit has become a new favorite to make right away to sell.
I recently tasted Aalborg Taffel Akvavit at Redbird. It’s in one of the 31 drinks.
Aalborg is Dutch in origin. Taffel which means clear, is not too sweet and worked well in a cocktail.
Aalborg and Linie will be the sponsors of Aquavit Week coming to Los Angeles on November 4-11. There will be events and featured aquavit cocktails around town. I can’t wait!
I recently spotted this Swedish aquavit, O.P. Anderson, a few months ago.
They are the oldest Swedish aquavit. The Swedes tend to drink aquavit before meals and have an entire drinking culture that revolves around songs and merry making. I’ll have to ask my cousin in Sweden if they really feature aquavit prominently during their summer crawfish parties (did you know crawfish was brought to Sweden from Louisiana?). Now I’m interested in having aquavit with seafood
As mentioned, Krogstad is the aquavit I’m most familiar with. It’s has a lot of star anise flavor and so if you don’t like licorice, you may not like this one. The founder of House Spirits, Christian Krogstad, said he made it because he couldn’t find aquavit for his holiday meals. So he made his own. And eventually people liked it enough that he decided to bring it to market.
While I was in Madison, I tasted a number of local spirits including aquavit from both State Line and this Holiday one from Gamle Ode. They also make a dill aquavit on which the Holiday is based. There are notes of dill, caraway and juniper.
I’ve now seen the Swedish Ahus Akvavit at a number of bars in LA. Get the drink at the Varnish with Ahus. It’s essentially a Negroni and the citrus notes in Ahus really works well. I found most of the European aquavits I tried tend to be spice-heavy but the American ones emphasize the citrus notes more. Ahus is right in between. It has just enough citrus to make it interesting to me and it really lightens up the spirit.
I also love that they list the dominant flavors right on the front of the label including caraway and fennel.
As mentioned earlier in my Fernet / Amaro post, Geijer Spirits is a California spirits maker. They have an aquavit called Aqua Vitae, which is Latin for “water of life.” The word aquavit is derived from this phrase. You’ll see “water of life” pop up also in Irish and Gaelic from which the word whisky comes from.
This one is also a bit sweet and citrus-y. It reminded me a bit of the California Fernet actually and I wondered if it starts with a similar base. Was there mint in this? But we do know there’s sage and ginger.
I’d make a refreshing drink with this Aqua Vitae. Maybe orange or lemon juice would be accents.
Local Pasadena producer, Stark Spirits makes a number of spirits including aquavit. I recently re-tasted this one and thought it was a little heavier on the citrus than the botanicals. It’s also a bit “muddy” to me. I prefer their gins.
Orange County’s Blinking Owl makes an aquavit that I’ve talked about before here. I really like Blinking Owl’s. Although a little more citrus forward, it’s well balanced and I would sip this one chilled and neat.
Also note the spirit is lightly brown, not crazy red. That’s just a reflection of the tablecloth.
I mentioned earlier that I tasted Aalbborg Taffel. I also just tasted Aalborg Jubilaeumas. I loved this aquavit! It had both cardamon and dill but is also aged in American white oak.
In the last few years, I’ve seen Linie (pronounced Lin-ay, not Lin-E) at various bars and probably had drinks with it but I had never tasted it neat before. I also really enjoyed this one. And I loved the background story of how 5 casks were sent overseas and then actually returned to Norway. The result was an almost creamy aquavit that I think is very nice. Now all Linie casks take a trip to Australia and back before being bottled.
My conclusion is I really do like aquavit and while I’m interested in the American ones, I actually prefer the Old World style ones from Europe. But if we’re talking about cocktails, then I would go for the American made ones.
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