Did you know there is an association of Norwegian Friends of Aquavit? Did you know that there’s an inn in Oslo offering 435 different brands of aquavit? Did you know that the Norwegian official Aquavit Day is on 13 April? These are not fake news, and we invited the president and general manager of the association to meet us at the popular aquavit bar Fyret in Oslo, which is often frequented by popular artists and locals who enjoy eating, drinking and chatting there. Learn more about the Norwegian Friends of Aquavit.
According to general manager Lars Ole Ørjasæter, Friends of Norwegian Aquavits is a cultural organization aiming to develop knowledge about Norwegian aquavits, create synergy between Norwegian food and aquavit, and not least increase the number of good meetings around the table. The organization was founded in 1999 and has about 7,500 members, all of them more than average interested in food & drink. New members are welcome!
Elisabeth Gjestland was elected the organization’s president in 2020. She tells us that that there are 35 distilleries in Norway and that her favorite is Meir signed by Ivan Abrahamsen, which has a subdued taste but still is rich in spices. The caraway is creating lot of Christmas aromas. She considers it a very comfortable all-rounder which can be safely placed on the table for all types of Christmas food.
The most famous aquavit is Linie. In 1805 the Norwegian Lysholm family sent a shipment of their potato spirits to East Indies. There people were totally uninterested in buying it, so the aquavit was sailed back to Norway. On its return in 1807, it was discovered that the sea voyage had vastly improved the taste.
The Norwegian aquavit has some key differences from the Danish and Swedish ones. To be named “Norwegian aquavit”, it must be made only from potato spirits. Norwegian distillers call potatoes the grapes of the north! It is always aged in wood, mainly sherry casks, and should never be served freezing cold but in room temperature.
Traditionally aquavit has been a men’s drink and in particular during the holiday season together with traditional Norwegian Christmas food. In later years, the aquavit is considered an all-year-round drink.
“I never liked bacalao before I tasted aquavit,” says Kaja Moreite Nørholm Tinderholt, owner and manager of Fyret. “Now I enjoy both bacalao and the many new tastes of the spirit.” Her heart’s desire is to get more people to open their eyes to aquavit. There are a variety of brands and flavors out there, and many distilleries focus on flavors for summer – and ladies.
We asked the trio about their favorite aquavits and they did not hesitate to answer: Bohemens jul (The Bohemian’s Christmas), Flåklypa Special, Kjellermesterens Premium Reserve and Lysholm Linie Double Cask Sherry/Port.
Personally, as a curiosity, I find this year’s Fandens korona (The Devil’s Corona) an appropriate drink during the present calamity.
The scene at Fyret is dimly lit and looks a little like a scene from a Flemish painting. Kaja took over her father’s barkeep in 2016. Fyret was founded in 1997 (25 years anniversary next year!) At that time, the Youngstorget (Young’s Square) was slightly spookier than today; scarcely lighted with a different audience placed just below the Oslo Central Police station and prisons.
Today, many of the regulars are radio celebrities, musicians and artists enjoying their beers, aquavits and the convivial rollicking atmosphere. Kaja’s father is an educated chef – and a recognized musician and the menu at Fyret is inspired from Danish smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches). There’s live blues music last Monday of every month.
6 Interesting facts about Norwegian Aquavit
1. Sustainable production
Back in the days, shortage of grains prompted farmers to start growing potatoes instead.
This led to a sustainable practice where the potatoes themselves were used for food and the potato peels distilled for spirits, which in turn yielded a byproduct that were fed to the cows improving their milk production (no wonder aquavit and cheese go so well together). Modern aquavit production still uses ingredients that would otherwise be discarded: inedible potatoes, peels and other leftovers.
2. «Norwegian Aquavit» is a protected name
“Norwegian aquavit” is a protected name, on par with the French Cognac. It must be made of potato spirits distilled in Norway from minimum 95% Norwegian potatoes, and aged in oak barrels for at least six months. It must also contain caraway or dill seeds as the main spices.
3. Aquavit’s signature spice, caraway, can cure unfaithful husbands
The spices used in aquavit distillation were originally chosen based on their medical effects on the body and to hide unwanted taste from bad distillation. People thought that red plants were good for the blood, heart-shaped leaves good for the heart and so forth. Carraway, though, was thought to exhibit a more interesting effect: It could purportedly cure unfaithful husbands.
4. Aquavit has become a trendy drink for all occasions
Traditionally, aquavit was enjoyed ice-cold at Christmas time, but nowadays, it’s being served year-round. Bartenders both in Norway and abroad have taken an affinity to aquavit as a drink ingredient, and you can find aquavit that’s suitable for nearly any meal or occasion.
Fyret in Oslo is the leading aquavit bar in Norway, offering 435 different labels.
5. Aquavit is only sold in Monopoly shops
Over the course of the 19th century, people became increasingly aware of the damaging effects of alcohol, in particular the social problems of poverty and domestic violence that followed in its wake.
In 1916, the sale of hard liquor was prohibited, except for medical use. In 1923, no fewer than 1,8 million prescriptions for liquor were issued. After the prohibition era Norway still limits the sale of liquor, including aquavit, to a chain of specialist stores known as “Vinmonopolet” (‘the wine monopoly’).
6. The official Norwegian Aquavit Day is on 13 April.
Aquavit is almost exclusively a Scandinavian thing, but is increasingly accepted as a worthy drink all over the world.
Merry Christmas and Cheers – Skål!
Norwegian Friends Of Aquavit, text and photos by Tor Kjolberg (except where otherwise stated). Feature image (on top) photo by Fyret.