Winter is the perfect season for sipping aquavit, a trendy Scandinavian spirit akin to gin—with one key difference.
GIN MIGHT BE having a moment—see, for example, our roundup of terroir-focused gins in the Spring 2018 issue of this magazine—but if you’re at all tired of the same old G&T, point your palate instead toward aquavit. Also spelled akvavit, this Scandinavian liquor is produced like its botanical-infused cousin—but instead of leading with juniper, here caraway takes the spotlight.
Sipping on rye bread might sound like an acquired taste (especially after brushing), but the Nordics toss back aquavit with fervor. It’s now gaining traction in America, with the range of available offerings growing rapidly. From imported brands to domestic artisan distillers experimenting with white and barrel-aged versions, aquavit is also at the forefront of today’s cocktail trends. Perfect for the holidays? We’d say so. After all, Santa Claus
is from Scandinavia—or thereabouts—too.
BRENNIVÍN SPECIAL CASK SELECTION – $50 | 40% ABV
From Reykjavík, Iceland, Brennivín’s cask-aged aquavit demonstrates the lovely, complexity-inducing influence of oak on botanical-based white spirits. This limited edition is finished in bourbon and oloroso sherry casks; the former lends smoke and texture, the latter subtle sweetness. This is considered the distiller’s “winter aquavit” for its warming notes of baking spice, vanilla and pear. This sipping spirit is pure chat-’round-the-fire holiday pleasure, but hurry—just 2,000 of the 7,200 bottles produced will be available in the U.S.
NORDEN – $30 | 45% ABV
Norden was created by a husband-and-wife team in Michigan. Robyn Cleveland, now head distiller, was founding president of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild; Summer Ransom-Cleveland, now director of operations, escaped a corporate career. (The Scandinavian connection comes from Summer, whose grandparents hailed from Sigtuna, Sweden.) After years of research, the couple settled on a recipe whose ingredients include caraway, clementine, dill, anise and even sumac, resulting in a bright spirit that’s citrusy, herbal and floral.
AALBORG TAFFEL – $22 | 45% ABV
Hailing from Denmark, Aalborg was founded in the town of the same name in 1846; it’s a mainstay of the holiday table (and the best-selling brand) in the country. Fortunately, its recent arrival on American shores has brought its classic caraway and spice nose and delicate palate of orange citrus to U.S. bartenders and home enthusiasts alike. Taffel makes a great “Danish” Bloody Mary—just swap it for vodka.
LINIE LYSHOLM – $30 | 41.5% ABV
This Norwegian brand helped direct global attention toward aquavit through its golden-hued, barrel-aged expressions. The origin story of Linie is particularly compelling: In the early 1800s, the spirit crossed the equator on a high-seas sailing adventure lasting 16 months round-trip. Today, the company sends all its aquavit on a similar journey, making sure it crosses zero degrees latitude twice. Stored in sherry barrels for the duration of the voyage, the botanicals caraway, aniseed and orange peel combine with hints of vanilla from the oak.
LAUREN MOWERY, Incisal Edge’s spirits columnist, has covered the world through the lens of drink for publications including Wine Enthusiast, Forbes and Saveur.