What Is Aquavit?

Mixed drink While you’ll see spirits like vodka, gin, and tequila in every bar in America, aquavit is a bit less common. If you aren’t particularly well versed in mixology, you may wonder, what is aquavit? Here is some background on this delicious liquor and why its popularity is on the rise in North America. Aquavit is an infused spirit that has been a fixture in Scandinavia for centuries. It’s typically made with either grain or potatoes and can be flavored with a wide variety of spices. Just as gin must have juniper in its formula, aquavit must have caraway in its recipe.The most common other ingredients include dill, fennel, anise, cumin, cardamom, coriander, and citrus. Although not common in the US, aquavit is the national liquor of Scandinavia. If you travel to any of the Nordic countries, you probably won’t get far without being offered an aquavit drink. Aquavit is typically 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof), even though the EU requires only a minimum of 37.5% ABV to be officially labeled aquavit. At your next cocktail party, if your friends ask you what aquavit is, you can tell them it’s a delicious 80 proof Scandinavian spirit with caraway that adds a unique flavor to cocktails.

What Is Aquavit’s History?

Aquavit’s history in Scandinavia dates back to the 16th Century. The first recorded mention of aquavit was in a 1531 letter from a Danish lord to an archbishop in Norway, who described for the archbishop what Aquavit was.  He told him it was a “spiced liquor that would cure any illness known to man.” The name aquavit comes from the Latin words ‘aqua’ or “water” and ‘vitae’ or “life” (the word whiskey actually means the same thing in Gaelic, though the two spirits have little in common). The “water of life” has long been said to have health benefits for those who consume it responsibly. What is aquavit’s benefit to one’s health? People have been speculating about this for many centuries. Throughout aquavit’s history in Scandinavia, it’s been used to aid in digestion, and it’s the most common spirit found at holiday celebrations. In Nordic countries, having a glass of aquavit alongside an appetizer of smoked fish, lamb, or pork, is quite common any day of the year.

Aquavit Outside of Scandinavia

Aquavit’s history was mainly limited to Scandinavia before it was re-introduced to the United States in the 21st century. Until recently, it’s been prevalent in areas with large populations of Scandinavian people, such as the American Midwest. Most recently, however, aquavit has become popular in trendy cocktail bars and high-end restaurants across America. Many bartenders have incorporated aquavit drinks into their repertoire in order to offer something unique and previously unknown to customers.

How Is Aquavit Made?

What is in aquavit that makes it so delicious? As previously mentioned, aquavit is typically distilled from either grain or potatoes, much like vodka. To be considered aquavit, it must be flavored with caraway, which is often accompanied by dill. It’s a common misconception that aquavit is always flavored with fennel and anise, but this isn’t always the case, even though most traditional Scandinavian recipes include these spices. Other common ingredients include cardamom, cumin, coriander, and even amber. Aquavit can either be barrel aged or made without aging, depending on the distillery. Much like whiskey or bourbon, aging the liquor in wood adds a flavor and richness that many drinkers enjoy.

The Aquavit Distillation Process

The exact distilling process of aquavit is different in each of the Nordic countries. For instance, Norwegian aquavit is usually made with potatoes and must be aged in oak barrels for at least a year. Some distillers age their aquavit for as long as 20 years. Danish aquavit is typically distilled from grain spirits, with caraway as the dominant flavor. The Swedes also use grain as the base, and brief aging is common, although not quite as strict as in Norway. Does aquavit taste similar no matter where it is made? No. The truth is that it depends on where you get it. Unlike Scotch Whiskey or Champagne, aquavit production is not limited to a particular region of the world. Many distillers in the United States have developed their own unique approach to producing aquavit, with blends and flavors that depart from the traditional profile. Batch 22, for example, is a New American Aquavit that offers a fresh take on the traditional Old-World recipe with a smoother, more mellow flavor. This version is much more citrus forward, with the caraway and dill components playing the supporting roles.

What Can You Do with Aquavit?

Aquavit is a versatile liquor with a wide variety of uses. You can create delicious aquavit cocktails with it, or drink it as a shot. In Sweden and Denmark, aquavit is typically chilled and consumed in one large gulp from a shot glass. Aquavit drinkers often toast one another by saying skal, which translates to “health.” This old Viking tradition originates from the belief that aquavit possesses certain health benefits for the people who drink it. In Norway, aquavit is not typically chilled; it’s served at room temperature and is often sipped so one can enjoy the rich flavors created by the aging process – the same way an aficionado may enjoy a neat glass of Scotch or Bourbon. In the past few years, aquavit drinks and cocktails have become more common in the United States. As more and more people are exposed to aquavit for the first time, they are finding it to be a welcome and exciting alternative to their usual and predictable alcohol choices. Inspired bartenders are creating all kinds of innovative aquavit drinks like the Batch 22 Stockholm Lemon Drop Martini or the Batch 22 Aquavit Negroni.

Where to Find Aquavit

Because it’s becoming increasingly more common in the United States, you can find aquavit in many bars and liquor stores all over the country. Batch 22, a brand based in Southern California, is changing the way Americans drink aquavit. Crafted to be smoother, more sippable, and super versatile as a mixer, Batch 22 aquavit is currently available in retail locations and bars throughout San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, and nationwide from the web site drinkbatch22.com. If you’re looking for a new and innovative spirit to spice up your home bar, try Batch 22 Classic Gold New American Aquavit. We promise it will taste like nothing you’ve ever had before and you’ll love it.

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