How a Scandinavian classic is warming hearts in B.C.
It takes about three seconds for a shot of ice-cold aquavit to pass your lips and slide down your throat, leaving its distinctive hit of caraway and liquorice tingling on your tongue and introducing a pleasing warmth into your belly. The Swedish Shot, as it is known — raise your glass, lock eyes with your fellow toasters and drink up — is swift and satisfying.
“The Swedes use a song to celebrate. It serves as a historical ritual and cultural drink,” says Long Table Distillery’s Charles Tremewen.
Whether named aquavit, akvavit or akevitt, the Scandinavian spirit has bubbled up at distilleries all over North America and is emerging in the global cocktail scene. “Aquavit is not far from gin. It’s a creative spirit whose foundations lie in caraway and dill,” Tremewen says, noting that in Denmark, these strong, spicy notes are played up hard.
Aquavit is not far from gin. It’s a creative spirit whose foundations lie in caraway and dill.
Tremewen prefers a smoother, Swedish-style profile for his Långbord Akvavit, forgoing the dill in favour of caraway, fennel, Seville orange and, of course, anise. Meanwhile, Okanagan Spirits’ Aquavitus Aquavit earned Double Gold at the 2015 World Spirits Awards (held in Denmark) with its assertive blend of caraway, dill, coriander, anise, fennel and gin staple, juniper. On Vancouver Island, Sheringham Distillery gives its aquavit a briny bite from incorporating locally harvested kelp.
Stalwart Norwegian distillery Linie stays true to its 1805 tradition, distilling potatoes for its base spirit, which is infused with spices such as caraway and star anise and then left to age in Oloroso sherry casks. The barrels are stowed as cargo on ships for four months, travelling from Norway to Australia (and back), ultimately aging for 16 months before being bottled.
There’s method in this madness: according to Linie, the ship’s constant movement, along with the changing temperatures and humidity at sea, balances the spirit’s spices and cask aromas, giving it “unparalleled smoothness.”
In the U.K., Cottonopolis in Manchester pays homage to Linie’s particular process with It Came From Beneath the Sea, a bold cocktail combining the aquavit with sake, sea salt, lemon, squid ink and a spray of Peat Monster whisky. In New York City, the much-vaunted Dead Rabbit bar serves the equally upfront Smart Alec (aquavit, Calvados, manzanilla sherry, dessert wine, cinnamon and celery bitters).
Back in B.C., bartenders are also embracing the spicy spirit. Wildebeest in Vancouver unites Sheringham aquavit with French vermouth, Amaro Montenegro and rosemary, crowning the Don’t Call Me Shirley! with a smoked olive. Just blocks away, the Diamond bar offers two cocktails with aquavit — one with tawny port, Italian vermouth, orange, tonic and cold-brew coffee; the other, the King’s Trident, brings both Cynar amaro and manzanilla sherry to the party.
“I think because [aquavit] has so much character it lends itself to be a good base for a cocktail,” says Tremewen. In December, he plans to launch a barrel-aged aquavit rested in rye casks from Woodinville Whiskey in Washington. But for now he says, he’s content to keep the Långbord chilled and sip it neat, savouring the spices and a hint of sweetness from the Seville orange.
“This spirit simply warms you from the inside.”
TEMPERATURE CONTROL: Though the Swedes and Danes treat aquavit as a white spirit, to be drunk straight from the freezer, store your sea-aged Linie that way and risk ire: the Norwegians consider such treatment sacrilege.
—by Janet Gyenes