Drink It Next: Aquavit

The best way to warm up your home bar


Consider winter in Scandinavia, say the northern reaches of Sweden, the long coast of Norway. Here, between the Arctic Ocean and the icy Baltic Sea, over 100 days a year clock in below freezing, with many unfolding in permanent, mid-winter twilight. To survive with your sanity intact, you'll need a few provisions: Sturdy boots, thick walls, and liquor that will warm you up in a hurry.

Enter Aquavit (or Akvavit, depending on where you're drinking it), the water of life, the pale gold liquor that defrosts hearts and hands and forges bonds from Stockholm to Kruna -- and the next great addition to your home bar.
Far from being a roughly hewn spirit meant solely for desperate, isolated nights on the fjords (though, again -- it's perfect for that), Aquavit is actually a staple of Scandinavian socializing; the drink is a standard appetite-stimulator in the summer, and has an honored place in the nations' major holiday meals. Here's all you need to know to get started:

1.) Aquavit is distilled from potato or grain, like vodka, and flavored with botanicals and spices -- principally caraway, but it's not rare to see cumin, aniseed, cardamom, or citrus peels.

2.) Your Aquavit's color and age depend on its origin; Norwegian aquavit is often matured in oak, whereas Danish and Swedish bottlings tend to be white.

3.) The preferred way to take Aquavit is straight, either at room temperature or with a stiff chill. Non-purists can be caught chasing the shot with beer.

4.) Aquavit is often called by the generic term "snaps," a generic term for a strong shot done during a meal (in Scandinavian countries, anytime one is drinking snaps, one is more than likely drinking aquavit). Snaps are typically accompanied by seafood (pickled herring, crayfish), and are often tied to drinking games and songs.

5.) Like many spirits, Aquavit was once (ie, in the 1500s) thought to have significant medicinal properties. Today, it's still prescribed -- from one drinker to another -- as an aid for digestion, especially after rich, fatty meals.

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  • I LOVE akavit! Alborg made a Jubelorum version to commemorate their 100th aniversary, with a lot of dill in addition to the caraway - awesome! Freeze it in an "ice jacket", (so it stays ice cold when you put it on your table) and Skoal!
    Hold your glass at heart-height, look someone directly in the eye, and say "Skoal!", then shoot it! But do not "skoal" your host or hostess - it's considered bad manners, since they MUST drink when skoaled, and with many guests, they'd get plastered quickly and could not attend to their company! Break out those crayfish!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 5:08 PM

  • Snooth User: hedward
    612224 1

    The water of life is my favorite, ice cold. I enjoyed the first five things I should know, but I can't find the other five in this edition of Spirit...

    Oct 15, 2010 at 5:56 PM

  • ' To survive with your sanity in tact, you'll need a few provisions...'

    I guess you intend:

    To survive with your sanity intact.

    Intact: complete, whole
    tact : delicate perception of the right thing to say or do...
    I love Aquavit!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 11:58 PM

  • Snooth User: sweden9933
    427395 51

    Going out today to hunt for Aquavit.Thanks Snooth

    Oct 16, 2010 at 12:42 PM

  • When visiting Bergen, I was told that it was transported south of the equator as part of the process to make it. Is that true?

    Oct 17, 2010 at 8:17 AM

  • Snooth User: lokisrvng
    346692 3

    As a Norwegian-American (parents from Holmestrand) I recomend Linie
    Aquavit. It travels the world for 19wks & crosses the equator twice. Each one of my siblings & I ALWAYS have a bottle of aquavit in our freezer! Although it's not always easy to find.

    Oct 17, 2010 at 8:47 AM

  • I love Aquavit! Living with a Scandinavian mutt (a boyfriend who is half Swedish/half Icelandic and raised in Norway), I don't have much choice but I do love a good Skål with Aquavit. Looking forward to lots of it at Christmas in Oslo this year. Can't wait to try that Danish Martini recipe!!!

    Oct 18, 2010 at 5:45 PM

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