A gentleman’s guide to akvavit

Ah, akvavit. The drink of the cold, dark north. Enjoyed by Scandinavians for hundreds of year, but lately gaining more and more international recognition.

What is akvavit?

Akvavit, from the latin aqua vitae – water of life – is a distilled spirit that originated in Scandinavia, where it has been produced since the 15th century.

It gets it’s distinctive flavour from spices and herbs, and according to EU law, the minimum ABV is 37.5% and the dominant flavour must come from caraway and/or dill seed.

How to drink akvavit

Traditionally, akvavit is drunk during festive gatherings, such as Christmas, Midsummer and crayfish parties, chilled, as shots during the meal. In Sweden, it is mostly consumed immediately following a song, called snapsvisa, of which the most known one is “Helan går”.

Lately, however, akvavit is getting more and more common as a drink ingredient, both for cocktails and long drinks. For instance, akvavit and tonic – often garnished with a twig of dill – is an excellent digestive after a meal.

Two main styles

There are two distinctive reginal styles of akvavit. Traditionally, the Danish and Swedish aquavit is lighter in both color and taste, while the Norwegian akvavit is often darker, due to being matured in oak casks. This also gives it more complex flavours, loved by some but which might make it too overwhelming as a drink ingredient or with food, and better suited as an aperitif.

Linje akvavit

Perhaps the most exotic style of akvavit is the Norwegian Linje Akvavits. Linje Aquavit is named after the tradition of sending oak barrels of aquavit with ships from Norway to Australia and back again. This means that the akvavite passes the equator (“linje”) twice before being bottled.

The constant movement, high humidity and fluctuating temperature cause the spirit to extract more flavour and contributes to accelerated maturation and higher complexity.

Which akvavit should I try?

If you want to start easy with a smooth akvavit that is not too overwhelming, then Swedish O.P. Anderson and Danish Aalborg are great picks. They are both versatile and can be used both as aperitifs, shots during the meal and as drink ingredients.

If, on the other hand, you want to dive in to something more rich and complex right away, Lysholm Linje, is dark, rich and complex, and best drunk sipped as an aperitif.