The Next Big Scandinavian Thing

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Spirits fans in Canada are touting aquavit, calling it the Next Big Scandinavian Thing to influence our palates.

“In its simplest form, it’s a Nordic gin, but flavored with caraway instead of juniper,” explains Alex Black, bartender at the Vancouver Club, to The Globe and Mail. “Think of it like a whisky: Different countries have different styles, so dill is big in Denmark, the Swedes like it made with fennel while Norwegians mostly use caraway.”

141215-scandinavian-aqvavit The unifying factor is that it’s always a celebratory drink, and it’s drunk with food and friends, and is very well suited with heavy meals, like during Christmas time.

To try it in a cocktail, Black suggests switching in aquavit for any gin-based drink that’s not too sweet, such as corpse reviver or last word.

Danish brands tend to dominate in liquor stores, but Canadian distillers are getting in on the act, too, so look out for local expressions of this most Scandinavian spirit.

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“I love to use aquavit in savoury drinks that pair with food,” says Montreal bartender Mélanie Aumai, of the restaurant Tripe and Caviar. “To me, it’s almost in between a flavoured vodka and gin.”

Here’s a recipe for the Scandinavian scandal, from Aumai’s current menu: Shake 1 oz aquavit, 1 oz fino sherry, 1/2 oz lime juice, 1/2 oz simple syrup and a dash of celery bitters over ice. Strain and serve up in a coupette. Garnish with a small piece of dill.

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“Aquavit is terroir study in Scandinavian culture,” says bar manager Lauren Mote says Vancouver’s Uva Wine and Cocktail, which currently has two Canadian and three Scandinavian varieties on offer.

For those who want to explore different expressions of the spirit, bar

. “Canadians are using those same Nordic spices – caraway and dill – but using local botanicals, too. Trying it neat is the best way to taste the spirit, but it’s a great base for savoury cocktails, too,” she adds.

Aquavit is indeed the national spirit,” says Martin Bjelgaard, marketing director V&S Distillers, which produces 17 different aquavits, including Aalborg Taffel, Hoker Snaps, Harald Jensen and Aalborg Jubilaeums.

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Swedish and Danish aquavits are similar in style and range of color, but Swedish aquavits can have forward fennel, anise and citrus flavors. Because Swedish aquavit is flavored with ingredients from specific regions, labels name the place of origin. Popular brands include Skane, O.P. Anderson, Brannvin Special and Gammal Norrlands Akvavit.

Aging aquavit in oak sherry barrels aboard ships that cross the equator twice is a production element unique to Norwegian aquavit. “Take Danish or Swedish aquavit, chuck it in your mouth and you get the alcohol,” says Ole Martin Alfsen, beverage consultant for the Culinary Institute of Norway. “It’s really two different worlds.” Norwegian aquavits range from clear to dark caramel and are flavored with a variety of botanicals including star anise, guinea pepper, cumin and citrus peel.

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Thor Heyerdahl aqvavit is aged on French oak barrels by the Cognac distiller Camus and was launched last Christmas. It has a scent of citrus and vanilla. It’s an all-round aqvavit for Christmas.

The Next Big Scandinavian Thing, written by Tor Kjolberg