- On January 21, 2016
There is a moment when you taste something for the first time and it surprises you so much that you can’t help but stop and take note. Your palate is so intrigued that the sense memory you gain will be cemented forever in that place and time. The sounds, the aromas, the light and color; each facet of this jewel of a memory will remain clear and focused whenever your palate should meet that taste again. This is the game in which Gamle Ode aquavit rules.
Gamle Ode was created by Mike McCarron in concert with the 45th Parallel Distillery crew over the border in New Richmond, WI a little over three years ago. After encountering dill-based aquavit (a rarity in the aquavit market) while skiing abroad in Scandinavia, Mike fell in love. Telling the story of Gamle Ode’s creation, Mike recalls a traditional smørrebrød dinner he had in Iceland with some Danish friends. Accompanying this meal was a bottle of dill aquavit. It is clear that this memory will remain a lucid moment for Mike as long as he lives. The fondness for it led him on a path that resulted in the trial and error tests done with 45th Parallel. After securing steady, local sources of all the ingredients needed to make exactly the spirit he sought, finally they were ready. Gamle Ode debuted with just the Dill, but Celebration and Holiday expressions followed after. Each version is unique and brilliant and shines bright like a diamond.
Breaking from tradition, I’m going to speak to you all directly this week. The Royal We will return next go around, but for now let’s commune. The Gamle Ode aquavits are products dear to my heart not only because of their insane versatility, but the sense memories I have associated with my first experiences tasting them. I first had the Dill at a tasting put on by the Bittercube crew. Like a light bulb blinking on, a simple Old Fashioned opened my eyes to a whole new idea of what flavor profiles were possible in a cocktail. The savoriness of the dill is bright and green, like a great pickle without the vinegar. Marrying that with the sweetness of simple syrup and the spice from their incredible bitters created what I have to call a taste experience. Wave after wave of different flavors kept cascading on my tongue. In that moment I could see the possibilities this cocktail had, all the different ways one could take it and make it something new, different and great. The only limit it had was the scope of the imagination.
Gamle Ode Holiday builds on the Dill spirit and adds orange peel, mint and allspice to the mix before being redistilled and aged for six months in Alexis Bailly wine barrels. Whenever I taste this spirit, I am transported back to the corner seat of the bar at Eat Street Social. Winter is in full swing and I can feel the breeze from the door whenever someone walks in to the bustling restaurant. The end of the night has come for me, but I want one more dram to close it out. After looking at the lengthy spirit menu, I see the line for Gamle Ode Holiday. I remember how much I had loved the original aquavit, and can’t help but be curious about this sibling spirit. A glass of this spirit, neat, is placed in front of me and I’m immediately struck by its rich garnet color. Clearly this is a different animal, and my mouth begins to water in anticipation. Complex and rich doesn’t begin to describe it. Citrus and mint pop right away, with the familiar dill and caraway joining in. Exotic spice flavors dance around the tongue and its body is much more plush from the time spent in oak. My eyes open wide in excitement and the bartender nods in agreement at the face that I make. He knows. Before too long, my drink is gone and I gather my coat, wandering back out into the December chill. But a warmth wells up from within, and the holiday spirit carries me along.
While we all love a maverick, sometimes a bit of tradition isn’t a bad thing. Gamle Ode Celebration takes the base Dill spirit and brings it back to more familiar territory. Stronger caraway and anise notes join the fold, and it spends two months slumbering in both 45th Parallel Border Bourbon and the same wine barrels which had previously held the Holiday. All this creates a spirit with similarities to the big names in aquavit, whether it be Linie or Aalborg Jubilaeum. The memory I have of this spirit is not actually the first time I tried it. Nor the third or fifth. For me, it was the moment I finally worked with it in a way that flies in the face of tradition. I recently started moonlighting behind the bar at the newest beverage program Bittercube helms (Scena Tavern) and encountered a cocktail that is at once both old and new school. The Scena Sling utilizes Gamle Ode Celebration in place of the usual gin to wonderful effect. Straw tasting it as we went through training, I was immediately smitten and let me tell you, I wasn’t the only one. The interplay of bright lemon and savory flavors of dill, caraway and juniper coupled with the rich body lent from sweet vermouth and bubbles from seltzer create a cocktail that hits every high note. It is the first drink I recommend on the menu and one I will never tire of tasting. That is the exact experience Celebration encourages. Somehow you can be one traveler going down both paths diverged in the woods. Traditional snaps lovers will be right at home, but there is something new and exciting to be found every time you come back to this spirit.
All the noise of the day, the susurrus that constantly surrounds us, vanishes with something as simple as a sip of these unique spirits. This is the power of memories, and the transporting power Gamle Ode will always hold for me.
All Gamle Ode aquavits on sale for $24.99 through the end of the month (reg. $29.99)!