Aquavit: Water of Life

12 December, 2013

Sune Risum-Urth says: “Aquavit is a deeply interesting spirit and a great expression of Scandinavian craft. It’s basically gin with different botanicals, made in much the same way, and sharing history all the way down to William of Orange and his wife.

“Aquavit is actually drunk by everyone. The thing is that a lot of people have a notion of aquavit being foul and something you only drink with pickled herring around Christmas. If you invite someone over for pickled herring without having a bottle of aquavit they get offended. So everyone from 18-year-old student girls to 80-plus men drink it. And most of these also make it themselves. It’s a long and proud tradition in Scandinavia to infuse your own aquavit, and many a trip to the forest ends in pockets full of herbs and roots.”

Nick Kobbernagel-Hovind says: “(Like the Danes) the Norwegians have a tradition of drinking it with traditional foods but recently there has been a movement toward other and more modern-style cuisine pairings. Thanks to Arcus and Halvor Heuch, a new generation of aquavit drinkers and aquavits has seen the daylight.

“At Ruby we are proud to bring new concoctions with aquavit to life every season. We see it as our job to bring the great Scandinavian spirit into our world and a good way of developing our own Scandinavian expression in cocktails. It is also popular in New York and features on many menus there. Aquavit works as an excellent gin substitute in classic cocktails. You’ll be surprised.”

Salon 39, also in Copenhagen, featured in the Bars to Watch section of The World’s 50 Best Bars. Bar-chef Terkel Kleist tells DI: “I have grown up all over Scandinavia and therefore I would describe it as a Nordic spirit. In all respect to those people, who use it as a base spirit in cocktails, I have always seen it as a supporting act in a good Danish lunch. 

“I can’t think of any other culture besides the east European that has straight booze for lunch. That said, my family would always infuse it with spices and herbs as they also do in Sweden and Norway and because of this I have come to use it daily as a modifier in drinks and not as the base spirit. 

“I’m a big fan of the ones I’ve grown up with. OP Anderson and Linie from Norway but for cocktails I use Rød Ålborg, as this is great for infusions,” says Kleist.

Håkan Swahn, who opened the Aquavit restaurant in New York 25 years ago, tells DI: “Throw all traditions overboard and think out of the box about what you can do with the beverage and also minimise the caraway and dill dominance. Making aquavits without colour also helps in using them in a cocktail.”

“I can only speak for the New Yorkers. We offer a menu of house-infused aquavits that rotates with the seasons (cucumber, horseradish, coriander & crown dill, fig & cardamom, mango, lime & chilli, strawberry & hibiscus, etc.). Those are offered on their own or as a flight of three. They are created to match our cuisine, whether in the dining room or at the bar-lounge. Guests enjoy them at cocktail hour, or with specific dishes, or as an after-dinner drink,” he says

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