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Aquavit, a storied Scandinavian spirit that has been produced in the region since at least the 15th century, deserves some attention from modern-day imbibers.
And, after my dad’s bestie jokingly called it “Norwegian Everclear” I was even more interested in learning about this Nordic goodness. To find out more, I talked to Dan Oskey, one of the founders of Minnesota’s own Tattersall Distilling, a heavily-awarded craft operation in a state famous for its Scandi influences. Oskey shared that he initially fell in love with aquavit during his more than a decade spent bartending in Minneapolis. He stated that “Although its flavor may seem unexpected at first, it is also extremely approachable.
Here in Minnesota, aquavit is a spirit that resonates with tradition because of a large Scandinavian heritage in this region. Tattersall Aquavit was one of our original products and has always remained one of our top performers and also one of our most beloved.” Oskey also noted, that as a category, aquavit has had a major rise in popularity over the past five years or so, including outside the Midwest, where it has more of a cult following.
Though there are many aquavit traditions in the Nordic countries, for our purposes, Chilled will focus on the Danish iteration, since Denmark is thought to be the first spot that produced it; and, Tattersall’s aquavit is modeled after the traditional Danish style in both production method and taste. That means that caraway leads the charge with fennel more as an after note. Oskey elaborated on the flavor profile further and added that “[t]he caraway lends an earthy flavor reminiscent of pumpernickel rye bread while the fennel offers an almost sweeter anisette taste. There is a slight peppery bite and undertones of citrus and light baking spice. Because we age it in our rye barrels, you get a touch of warm, soft oak on the palate as well.”
To experience this enchanting beverage in its native land, visit Denmark’s gorgeous capital city of Copenhagen. Famous for its smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich) places, travelers should be sure to order aquavit (often spelled akvavit) with their meal. Katinka Friis from Visit Denmark recommended Restaurant Schönnemann in the city center as her favorite classic Danish meal. This spot has been serving the traditional lunches since 1877.
Friis also shared that in Denmark, new more modern takes on aquavits are getting popular, especially among younger generations who want to distance themselves from their parents aquavit. She continued, “The best place to try new ones is at Rastløs, a cool aquavit bar in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Nørrebro opened in 2018. You can of course try the aquavit on its own, but they also do some great aquavit cocktails.”
For solid homemade aquavits (or snaps as it is often called in Denmark), Friis suggested the restaurant Told & Snaps. They have an extensive menu of special aquavits from around the country, as well as their own in-house aquavits using various herbs and spice combinations.
How to Enjoy Aquavit
According to Tattersall’s Oskey, “Aquavit welcomes creativity and it works exceptionally well paired with citrus, spice, stone fruit, and a multitude of herbs.” This adaptability lends itself to success in numerous drink options, like the classic chilled shot, or as a cool substitution for the usual vodka or gin in a Gimlet, Bloody Mary, or Southside. Oskey continued, “It even works great alongside or in place of rum in tiki drinks”. These varied applications mean there are so many ways to be creative with the unique ingredient of Aquavit. For first-timers, Oskey suggested that it’s best introduced in cocktail form.
Friis shared that “The classic Danish way to have it is chilled, often straight from the freezer, and served like shots with lunch at our holidays – particularly the påskefrokost (Easter lunch) and julefrokost (Christmas lunch).” For this purpose, it is often an old school offering like Rød Aalborg Aquavit, which has been made in the Danish town of Aalborg since 1846, that is utilized.
It’s clear that aquavit belongs on your boozy bucket list, whether on a trip to its Scandinavian birthplace, at Tattersall’s Minneapolis cocktail room, or as a fun addition to your home bar.