April 7, 2017
In good spirits: Carried away by caraway
By Joanne Sasvari
Why we’re falling in love with spicy, aromatic akvavit
Bored with gin? Over vodka? Looking for a crisp, clean spirit to enjoy in spring and summer’s refreshing cocktails, but tired of the same old same old?
Well, you’re in luck. The next big thing in spirits is here, ready to shake up all your warm-weather cocktails.
Akvavit, also known as aquavit, akevitt or even just snapps, is not a new spirit, but it has suddenly grabbed the attention of bartenders, distillers and consumers alike.
It is the spirit of Scandinavia, widely enjoyed in Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and their neighbours. Its sudden popularity may well be the result of all the excitement around Nordic cuisine. Or it might just be because it’s so darn delicious.
“Translated from Latin, it’s ‘water of life.’ Aqua vitae. Eau de vie. Uisge-beatha,” says Max Borrowman, bar manager at Juniper Kitchen & Bar in Chinatown. “It’s the Scandinavian version of that. It’s basically caraway or dill vodka.”
Like vodka, akvavit is typically a grain spirit distilled from wheat, barley or potatoes. Then it is flavoured with caraway and other spices such as dill, citrus, fennel, cumin, coriander and anise.
“It’s like gin. Gin uses juniper always and akvavit uses caraway like its juniper berry,” Borrowman says.
Akvavit is also typically unaged, although there are some cask-aged versions, with a flavour profile that is sweet, spicy, crisp and clean, sometimes with hints of marmalade or rye, and always that caraway note.
Akvavit dates back to at least the 16th century, when it was considered a medicinal beverage that aided digestion and fended off disease. Indeed, even today it is enjoyed as a digestif after a big meal like the Christmas julebord.
Scandinavia, of course, produces most of the world’s akvavit; you can find the Danish brands Bornholmer and Aalborg in BC Liquor Stores.
Until recently, akvavit was always drunk straight, usually as an icy shot alongside cured fish or sipped slowly with a smorgasbord of savoury nibbles. Now bartenders are discovering how great it can be mixed in cocktails such as sours, a French 75 or Negroni.
But straight or mixed, akvavit is giving new life to drinks culture. Skaal!
The Life Saver
This fragrant akvavit-based cocktail comes from Max Borrowman, bar manager of Juniper Kitchen & Bar.
1 ½ oz (45 mL) gin, preferably Odd Society Wallflower
½ oz (15 mL) akvavit, preferably Sheringham
½ oz (15 mL) Cocchi Americano aperitif
Dash of Bittered Sling Orange and Juniper bitters
Place all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist. Serves 1.
Three to try
You’ll find Scandinavian imports in liquor stores, but these local distillers are also making great versions of the caraway-flavoured spirit.
Sheringham Distillery Akvavit
The briny notes of local winged kelp mingle with traditional flavours of dill, caraway, anise and citrus. $52.90
Okanagan Spirits Aquavitus
Aromatic and complex, this award-winning spirit offers loads of caraway and dill with spicy hints of anise, fennel, coriander and juniper. $40
Long Table Distillery Långbord Akvavit
Licorice is the predominant flavour
in this award-winner, but there are also notes of fennel, anise, Seville orange and caraway. $47.10