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Aquavit: Water of Scandinavian Life
Required drinking in Scandinavia, aquavit is less common across the Atlantic. Read on for more about this herb-infused alcohol.
It’s possible to pinpoint where you in are Scandinavia by the rituals surrounding aquavit—a spirit that starts as a clear grain- or potato-based liquor before taking on beguiling cultural complexity. In Sweden, your drinking companions may burst into song; a shout of “skål!” will introduce a toast in Denmark; and in Norway it’s permissible to sip the drink through dinner rather than down it all at once. European Union regulations require that all aquavit be primarily flavored with caraway seeds, the same seeds found in rye bread, and the Danes often supplement this savory flavor profile with dill and coriander. In a Swedish glass, you may find traces of citrus, fennel, and anise.
The Norwegian distillers of honey-yellow Linie aquavit imbue it with its own character by sending it off to see the world. Sealed in oak sherry barrels to age, the liquor is stowed in the holds of ships bound on a 19-week voyage to below the equator and back. The rolling waves keep the liquid in uniform contact with the oak for a rich, woody flavor, and heat and humidity fluctuations make the casks expand and contract, further shaping the aging process.
Although other varieties may follow a less dramatic itinerary, most aquavit is aged for some amount of time. New barrels and long aging produce deep-amber tones, whereas clear aquavit may have been aged in old barrels, for only a brief time, or not at all. In its natural habitat, aquavit may be served chilled or at room temperature, in shot glasses or tulip-shaped stemware, alongside a glass of beer or, more rarely, blended into cocktails—but ideally, always paired with good company.