Aquavit Essential Info

  • Color: Clear to pale yellow, brown, or even reddish (depending on aging, flavoring)
  • Region: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, also U.S.
  • ABV: 40% ABV minimum
  • Aged: Can be aged, not necessary or typical
  • Made from: Generally a potato or grain-mash flavored with spices like caraway, dill, coriander, fennel, etc.
  • Commercial Examples: Arcus Linie (Norway), Aalborg (Denmark), O.P. Anderson (Sweden), North Shore Aquavit (U.S.), Krogstad Aquavit
  • Popular Cocktails: Not common in American cocktails, but can be substituted, e.g. Swedish Mule, Swedish “Gin” and Tonic, etc. Consider flavoring component per cocktail (savory, sweet, etc.)

Aquavit—a spirit that could be divisive (check out the flavorings) and yet somehow tends to bring the peoples of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden together, often over song, and usually with a loving toast. There won’t be a ton of aquavit bottles at your local liquor store (unless you’re Danish) but the good news for the spirit-ually exploratory is there should be at least a few. If you like a bracing spirit and aren’t wary of spices—savory or sweet—a bottle of Aquavit won’t disappoint.

Distilled into something fairly neutral from potato or grain mash (like vodka, and a few other spirits), aquavit differentiates itself by the seasoning. The Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—all lay claim to a solid aquavit culture, though all of their aquavit traditions differ. Swedish and Danish aquavits are more similar but for the final flavorings: in Sweden, it’s fennel, anise, and citrus; in Denmark, it’s dill, coriander, and caraway (with wiggle room, of course, including some potential barrel aging for Danish aquavits, as well as occasional oak or berry flavoring).

Norwegian aquavit is often sherry cask-aged, but easily the coolest thing is that (at least some brands) actually carry their aging aquavit barrels on ships, crossing the equator twice (‘cause why not?) as a means of influencing the interaction between barrel and spirit.

Easily the most fun, and kind of profound, element of aquavit (beyond its meaning, “water of life”) is the “Skal” toast that generally accompanies it, usually with specific eye contact. Taken with food—and what kind of food depends on what kind of aquavit, or vice versa—it’s an extremely social spirit, less about alcohol consumption than interaction.