Interest in Nordic alcoholic beverages in the United States is increasing. In 2012, the New Orleans-based distillery Bittermens began experimenting with Nordic-inspired spirits under the name Dala Spirits, and the first DALA Spirits product was Bäska Snaps, released in late 2012 in Europe and 2013 in the US. Some have named the trend «Nordic Tropical» in USA.
According to a distributor, it’s a tradition throughout Scandinavia, to take high proof aquavit and infuse it with bitter herbs during the holidays and the long, cold winter that follows. These «besk snaps» are served cold to family and visitors who need a bracing, bitter eye-opener.
However, in Scandinavia, it has become more and more common to drink aquavit at room temperature to emphasize the herbal mixture. In addition, aquavits have arrived for all seasons and occasions of the year, e. g. summer aquavits and ladies’ aquavits. During the pandemic, an aquavit called “To Hell With Corona” was even launched!
Bittermen’s Nordic line today consists of Solståndet, a malted aquavit with inspiration from Sweden, the Swedish-style bitter liqueur Bäska Snaps and Salmiakki Dala, a kind of Norse variant of Fernet. All DALA Spirits products are currently produced at the company’s facilities in Mosfellsbær, Iceland.
All three have been met with great enthusiasm by thirsty Americans. Dala Spirits are named after Swedish folk-legends of the Dala horse.
Bittermens has kept the Nordic tradition alive by creating an aquavit with flavors of caraway and infusing it with licorice, citrus and combined with a wormwood distillate produced by one of the oldest distillers in Pontalier, France.
The Nordic flavor is profoundly different from that of southern Europe, making use of wormwood, dill, caraway, licorice and unique flavorings like sal ammoniac.
Related: Scandinavian Aquavit Made in the USA
The great interest in Nordic alcohol is probably partly created by Danish Mikkeller beer, which has established a steady brand far beyond Danish borders. They put Nordic beer tradition on the map, and thus the time came for stronger drinks.
“Younger bartenders and connoisseurs are rediscovering aquavit,” says Thomas Klem Andersen, whose blog Cocktails of Copenhagen covers the city’s bar scene. “After years of hype about whiskey, rum and gin, many of us are exploring what’s in our own backyard.”
“Sometime back in 2015, bars and restaurants in the bigger cities started using aquavit. And once people found it in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, they follow. Long Road Distillery from Grand Rapids put their aquavit out because they saw an opening on the market and that was the start,” says Jiri Malis, a bartender featured on the blog Cocktails of Copenhagen.
Lyng Botanical Gin destilled by Norwegian Grimstad Brænneri won this year’s Bartender Spirit Award, one of USA’s most prestigious competitions for spirits from around the world. Impressive 99 points, and best in show! The judges were simply super impressed with the Lyng gin from Norway.
Related: Norwegian Friends of Aquavit
Aquavit is harder to find in the United States than in Nordic countries, but here are five varieties that are more widely available (Source: New York Times).
Lysholm Linie 41.5 percent $30
Savory caraway and juniper notes are balanced by oaky and smoky notes. (Sazerac Company, Metairie, La.)
Aalborg Taffel 45 percent $22
A clear, unaged “table” aquavit with intense herbs and spice flavors. (Sazerac)
Aalborg Jubilaeums 40 percent $25
Golden in color, softer than the Taffel, with warm citrus notes to accompany the caraway, dill and anise. (Sazerac)
Krogstad Festlig 40 percent $27
Rich, unctuous aquavit with pronounced notes of star anise. (House Spirits, Portland, Ore.)
Gamle Ode Dill 42 percent $28
Fresh, bright and green, like an herb garden in springtime. (Gamle Ode, Minneapolis)
Nordic Tropical in USA, written by Tor Kjolberg