- On September 7, 2016
Last week we introduced the month long Minnesota Spirits Sale by surveying the Minnesota whiskey landscape. This week we look to our Nordic roots with aquavit from Skaalvenn, Vikre, and Tattersall distilleries.
Aquavit, or akvavit, is derived from Latin aqua vitae, meaning water of life. It’s earliest records come from the 15th century and it has comparable production to vodka, gin, and whiskey. The base is distilled from grain or potatoes, like vodka; it is flavored by infusion with spices and herbs, like gin; and finally it is aged in oak, like whiskey, which gives it a yellowish hue. According to the European Union the main spice should be caraway or dill, but aquavit can traditionally include cardamom, cumin, anise, fennel, and lemon or orange peel. Caraway is known mostly for rye bread and its anise-like flavor.
Aquavit is traditionally served chilled and sipped slowly. Denmark and Norway drink it as an aperitif on Christmas and Easter. Finland and Sweden, on the other hand, combine aquavit with drinking songs and crayfish parties at the end of summer. Popularly believed to ease digestion after a large meal, aquavit has been known to, “help fish swim down to the stomach,” which lends to pairing with pickled herring, lutefisk, smoked fish, and of course, crayfish.
Skaalvenn Distillery, of Brooklyn Park, has clear ties to Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage. Skaalvenn translates to, “Cheers, friends,” in Norwegian. Started by Tyson and Mary Schnitker in the spring of 2015, they released their aquavit this past summer, making it the most recent aquavit on the market. Their aquavit is traditional with caraway driven flavors, but its strong anise and fennel elements sets it apart from our other featured aquavits. Of the featured aquavits, it is also the highest proof at 100, making it very cocktail friendly. This is not one to miss! On sale this month for $25.99, regularly $28.99.
Vikre Distillery in Duluth has two aquavits on the market. First the Øvrevann, Norwegian for Upper Lake, or Lake Superior, is infused with traditional caraway, cardamom, peppercorn, and orange peel. Unaged, it’s also the lightest of the featured aquavits. ($28.99, reg. $33.99) Second, the Voyaguer is distilled from malted barley, like scotch whiskey, infused with spices, then aged for a year in used cognac barrels. The barrels give it a distinct floral and fruity aroma and flavor, in addition to the traditional caraway. On sale this month for $36.99, regularly $44.99. Learn more about Vikre’s spirits at their in-store class next Thursday, September 15th, for just $10. Sign up in store or online.
Local spirits powerhouse Tattersall Distilling in Northeast Minneapolis has a traditional aquavit as well. Theirs is very caraway driven, rounded out with citrus and a subtle fennel on the finish. It’s balanced and very sippable at 80 proof, but its potent flavors hold up in cocktails. On sale this month for $26.99, regularly $31.99 Try Tattersall’s spirits on Friday, September 16th from 6-8pm at a free, in-store tasting.
Since aquavit has elements from vodka, gin, and whiskey, it fits well in many cocktails. Simply substitute it in for vodka or gin for a spicy, savory gimlet (2 oz aquavit, .75 oz lime juice, .75 oz simple syrup) or bloody mary. Also try equal parts aquavit, sweet vermouth, and Campari (or Tattersall’s Bitter Orange) for a Norwegian negroni. Best yet, Vikre’s blog points to an “Aquavit Pickleback.” Shoot 1 oz aquavit, then 1 oz lactofermented pickle juice, and feel like a champ.