Liquor 101: Aquavit
Given how much time we spend drinking, making, and writing about cocktails, it always surprises us and mostly delights us when we discover a new spirit. Aquavit has definitely been one of the most pleasant of those discoveries.
Aquavit is the traditional spirit in the Scandinavian countries. We’ve known of aquavit’s existence, but it flew below the radar until we noticed that barmini devotes an entire (albeit small) section of their menu to it. If barmini thinks it’s worth paying some attention to, far be it from us to continue to ignore it. We’re not alone. Aquavit has always occupied a space in the drinking world in the northern midwest, where so many Scandinavian immigrants to the US landed; but it’s recently been expanding beyond its midwestern base.
Technically speaking, we have tried an aquavit before. Iceland’s Brennivin, infamously described as the perfect complement for rotting shark, is an aquavit. We tried to develop some Brennivin cocktails for a proposed Iceland-themed party. We weren’t what you would call successful. We were ecstatic when the hosts decided to go with a Design-Your-Own-Tonic bar instead. Our opinions about Brennivin haven’t changed upon discovering it’s part of a wider, ancient drinking tradition, but we have discovered that Brennivin is by no means fully representative of that wider drinking tradition.
On the contrary, Brennivin excepted, aquavit ends up being right up our alley. Rather like gin, aquavit is an aromatized dry spirit. The difference lies in the mix of aromatics. Whereas juniper plays the starring role in gin, caraway takes the lead in aquavit. Dill, fennel, anise, and cumin play strong supporting roles, giving aquavit a more savory flavor than gin–or the other spirits with which we’re more familiar, for that matter.
We picked ourselves up a bottle of a linie style aquavit, the kind most common in Norway. It’s so called because it has crossed the equator (i.e. the ‘line’ or, in Norwegian linie) twice. The website for Lysholm, the biggest importer of aquavit to the US, says that linie was the result of a happy misfortune. They shipped some aquavit in oak sherry barrels to Australia, but weren’t successful selling it to the Aussies. When it came back, they decided to drink it instead, and they decided that it was much improved by the journey. Indeed, it’s a nice mellow, dry spirit, faintly reminiscent of rye bread with a little dill.
As is usual in Europe, Scandinavians themselves tend to drink it straight, on the rocks. As is usual in America, we mixed it in a cocktail.
The Complement Cocktail Recipe
We got this recipe from the Table Matters blog, who in turn got it from Hardeep Rehal, the bartender at Bar Rouge in Copenhagen. We made the slight addition of a few drops of olive oil, a trick we’ve been enjoying as a way to bring a bit of smoothness to very dry cocktails. Don’t omit the fresh dill garnish; its aroma adds quite a pleasant touch to the drink.
- 1 1/2 oz Plymouth gin–Plymouth has a little less juniper than London dry
- 3/4 oz aquavit
- 2 dashes maraschino liqueur
- a few drops olive oil
- a sprig of dill, as garnish
- Combine the gin, aquavit, and maraschino in a mixing glass.
- Add ice to the level of the liquid.
- Stir until the ice is noticeably melted.
- Strain into a cocktail glass.
- Add a few drops of olive oil.
- Garnish with dill.