There are more than 40 distilleries in the USA producing aquavit «the Norwegian way». Jacob Grier founded Aquavit Week in USA in December of 2012 as a celebration of the spirit. He has been a fan of using aquavit in cocktails since tasting Krogstad Aquavit when he moved to Portland to tend bar in 2008. Today, more than 40 Scandinavian aquavits are made in the USA.
In 2008, there were only a few aquavit brands available in the USA, but by 2012 there were five different American distillers producing it. Jacob felt these spirits were underrated, so the idea of Aquavit Week came about as an opportunity to feature them both neat and in cocktails.
The first Aquavit Weeks
The first Aquavit Week was hosted at Portland restaurant Metrovino, featuring cocktails made with six different aquavits, Scandinavian-inspired food, and a New Nordic Porter flavored with caraway, fennel pollen, and dill pollen brewed by Jacob’s friends at Breakside Brewing.
Related: Norwegian Friends of Aquavit
The second was hosted at The Hop and Vine with even more aquavit, more food, and a new Aquavit Barrel-Aged Braggot from Breakside. In year three the Aquavit Week expanded to multiple events and invited other bars and restaurants to take part by offering aquavit cocktails throughout the week — an invitation that, Jacob is happy to say, has been taken up with enthusiasm and creativity.
In its fifth year, In 2016, Aquavit Week was bigger than ever, with events in Portland, New York, Chicago, and Houston, and bars from all over joining the celebration. This growth has been made possible by the generous sponsorship of Linie Aquavit from Norway.
Related: Drinking in Scandinavia
When we asked Jacob Grier to share with us his signature aquavit cocktail, he replied, “The recipe below is a twist on the French 75, typically made with gin. I’ve found Nordic 75 to be a great drink for introducing people to aquavit.”
1 1/2 oz aquavit
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz rich simple syrup (2:1 sugar to water)
2-3 oz chilled dry sparkling wine
lemon peel, for garnish
Shake the aquavit, lemon juice, and syrup with ice. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with the sparkling wine and gently stir to combine. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
As always, it’s Jacob’s hope that drinkers and bartenders alike will explore the category as a whole, from Nordic stalwarts to the newest interpretations from American distillers.
Two examples of Scandinavian aquavit distilled in the USA
Riktig Aquavit Caraway from Old Ballard Liquor Co., Seattle, Washington (left) is an aquavit made according to Scandinavian tradition, and is spiced with caraway and (probably) extracts from alder. The aquavit holds 40% alcohol by volume and is suitable for seafood and smoked meat.
The manufacturer writes the following: “For a real Aquavit experience, freeze the bottle in a block of ice and place it right on the table for pouring”. Here is obviouslya market for education! The aquavit Gammal Krogstad (right) (a family name found in Målselv and Skjåk) is distilled by House Spirits Distillery, Portland, Oregon. The aquavit is spiced with caraway and star anise and the alcohol content is 42% by volume. The bottle is number 212 out of 815 from batch 26, so obviouisly, the distillery has been producing aquavit for several years.
Related: The Next Big Scandinavian Thing
The most traditional way to enjoy aquavit is to sip it neat. For unaged aquavit, it’s not unusual to chill the bottle before serving. That’s, however, not recommended for ageing aquavits by connoisseurs. Aquavit that has been smoothed by ageing barrels may be more enjoyable at room or cellar temperature. Aquavit is also versatile and delicious in cocktails, offering a range of botanical flavors. In short, if you like gin drinks, it’s worth giving aquavit a try.
Arguably the most traditional way to drink aquavit is by skåling, as impeccably demonstrated by actor Max Von Sydow in Time Life’s 1968 book The Cooking of Scandinavia. Sydow makes eye contact with the reader, then “[tipping] his glass backward, von Sydow drains the chilled aquavit in one deceptively cool gulp.” Then Sydow makes eye contact with the reader once again. The blog Cooking Issues has amassed a collection of celebrities skåling in style that’s worth checking out. Jacob suggests photographing your own stylish skål during next year’s Aquavit Week.
Danish Jenny says, “Fyi – I’m Danish. When someone says “skål” it goes like this:
1) Raise glass
2) Lean your head slightly to one side, and make eye contact with everyone at table, one after one, giving them a slight nod.
4) Keeping glass raised, repeat step 2.
5) Place glass back on table and resume meal.”
We recommend Jacob Grier’s book «Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer”
Scandinavian Aquavit Made in the USA, compiled by Tor Kjolberg