Spirits Close-Up: Aquavit

Aquavit // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

This month’s Craft Cocktail: Swedezerac at Fika uses anise-infused Skaalvenn Aquavit to complement to the fennel note that dominates the spirit, so for this month’s Spirits Close-Up we’re diving into locally-produced aquavits to learn more.

Bourbon has Kentucky. Absinthe has New Orleans. But aquavit has no spiritual center in the United States. Minnesota could be on its way to staking that claim—like the state itself, aquavit has a Scandinavian lineage, and a reputation for being prickly and standoffish but warm and comforting once you get to know it.

Think of aquavit as a vessel for caraway, the same way gin is for juniper. And like gin, aquavit’s main flavor is supported by a variety of others: cardamom, coriander, cumin, star anise, and citrus peel are some of the usual suspects. Like Kara Sweeney says (see this month’s Craft Cocktail: Swedezerac at Fika), think of using aquavit like gin—different cocktails call for different versions.

Here are four local renditions you’re likely to find on the shelf—along with a note on the other dominant flavor supporting the caraway, and the drink you should make with it.

Vikre Øvrevann Aquavit (Cardamom • Negroni) – Vikre’s aquavit is a pure slap of caraway, a distilled expression of rye bread, and the cardamom adds to the toasty and warm effect on the finish. Substitute Øvrevann for the gin in your next Negroni—and use Aperol instead of Campari so it won’t get too bitter.

Tattersall Aquavit (Citrus Peel • Collins) – Not a sweet spirit, but a healthy citrus peel flavor helps Tattersall’s rendition stray from the searing dry spice profile of a more traditional aquavit. Their Phil Collins cocktail (aquavit, simple syrup, lemon, and club soda) is the simplest and most refreshing aquavit cocktail in town.

Skaalvenn Aquavit (Fennel • Punch) – Skaalvenn isn’t shy on the spice in their aquavit. The fennel keeps the caraway buoyant and lengthy on the finish, which makes it perfect for seasoning a punch. Pour it into a bowl with some orange liqueur, fruit and fruit juices, a big block of ice, and get hygge by the ladle-full.

Gamle Ode Celebration Aquavit (Oak • Old Fashioned) – Their dill aquavit is more ubiquitous, but Gamle Ode’s Celebration version is their best, leveling out its botanical blend with the taste of wine and bourbon barrels. This layer of tannin makes it a fine figure in an old fashioned—use some orange bitters here to accentuate the sweeter notes.

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.