In addition to various practical lessons, however, a theoretical underpinning must not be missing. And hardly anyone is more suitable for imparting this very knowledge than master distiller Lars Kragelund from Copenhagen. Perhaps the only expert on the market who has insight into the recipes of almost all known aquavits. Yet the field is huge. Primary differences exist first of all on the basis of country borders. In Norway, the spirit is distilled exclusively from potatoes and must then be barrel-aged. Danish and Swedish aquavit, on the other hand, are grain-based and forgo both wood and extended storage.
For storage in wood, there are then again numerous variants. Both neutral oak barrels and old sherry and Madeira casks are used. Again, the storage time depends on the brand and product. The most famous in our country is the line Aquavit, which comes to a total of 16 months of aging in old oak barrels, where previously stored oloroso sherry. Of which four months at sea. From Oslo to Australia and back. Twice it passes the equator (Norwegian:line).
In addition to storage, the recipe then naturally plays a central role. The base of the neutral alcohol, i.e. potato or wheat, cannot be identified. Classically, the alcohol is primarily added caraway. In addition, dill, coriander, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and star anise are typical flavoring agents, often also zests of citrus fruits. The flavors are fully transferred into the distillate during distillation. The alcohol flavored in this way flows out of the plant in three phases: pre-run, mid-run, post-run. Only the center run – also called the frog – is ultimately used for production.
The diversity in production results in a wide and varied spectrum. Some of the tasted Aquavit I would probably have rather classified as gin.
The ideal drinking temperature varies accordingly. Actually, only the very clear liquor is drunk ice cold. The taste is dominated by caraway – and it tolerates the cold very well. The stronger the color (corresponding to longer previous aging in the barrel) the higher the drinking temperature.
Traditionally, aquavit is a perfect accompaniment to many of the somewhat more difficult-to-digest recipes in Scandinavian cuisines. However – and I have always done this wrong before – you only ever take a small sip. This allows the aroma to develop ideally and, above all, to form a much stronger and symbiotic bond with the dish.
I learned how well aquavit can be used for cocktails during a workshop at Lidkoeb Bar in Vesterbrogade by Nick Kobbernagel. Nick is one of the best-known bartenders in Copenhagen and, in addition to Lidkoeb, also manages Ruby Bar. After not playing any role at all in Scandinavian bars a few years ago, aquavit is currently experiencing a real revival. So it’s not at all surprising that more and more classic cocktails in Nick’s bars are also replacing gin, vodka or, in some cases, whiskey with selected local spirits. Due to the large number of products, however, the art lies precisely in finding the right aquavit in each case and integrating it correctly.
For me enough incentive to be a little more attentive to the Scandinavian liquor in the future and to dive even deeper into the variety of flavors…