We’re always up for noodling around with under-utilized spirits, and this week we decided to play with aquavit. Aquavit is a delicious Scandinavian liquor that relies on caraway, dill, anise, and other savory herbs and spices for its flavor. It’s kind of gin’s eccentric cousin. There’s a strong Scandinavian presence here in the PNW, and so we’re lucky to have a number of local distillers who choose to make this spirit. We’ll taste through a few and then try them in a cocktail.
To start, let’s see what the offerings taste like on their own.
Blekk Sprut from Sound Spirits
- Nose: Creamy lemon, dill, fennel fronds, caraway.
- Palate: Creamy lemon and coriander to start. Dill and caraway on the mid-palate. Sweet anise and fennel on the finish. Slightly palate coating. Dill stands out when tasted side-by-side with the other two.
Festlig Krogstad from House Spirits
- Nose: Caraway, anise, onion seed. Very savory nose.
- Palate: Markedly sweeter. Strong core of anise from start to finish. Honey and nutmeg to start. Toasted caraway on the mid-palate. Sweet graham crackers on the finish. Aftertaste is onion seed. Slightly palate coating, perhaps a bit less than the Blekk Sprut. Toasted caraway stands out very strongly when tasted side-by-side with the other two.
Ole Bjorkevoll from Rolling River Spirits
- Nose: More delicate nose. Caraway, mint, cucumber skin.
- Palate: Lighter, more satiny body. Strong mint to start that lasts into the mid-palate of honey and gentle caraway. Light floral notes on the finish, like fresh violet. Most approachable if you’re not sure you like aquavit.
All very tasty but quite different approaches to the spirit, which we love to see. Since this is a very traditional drink, it makes sense that it would vary a lot depending on the region and how the growing season had gone that year.
Next up, we tried these different representations in a cocktail. We went with our original Gallic War, which we came up with as a nod to Robert Hess’s Trident.
- 1 1/2 oz aquavit
- 1 oz Lillet Blanc
- 1/2 oz Punt e Mes
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Skol!
- Nose: Lemon, dill, caraway, hoarhound candy, hint of red fruit like cherry lifesavers.
- Palate: Front is dill, lemon, and coriander. Mid-palate is sweeter, with caraway, molasses and hoarhound candy underscored with some welcome acidity. Finish is a nice mix of lemon and dill with some herbal bitterness.
- Nose: Earthy, toasty caraway. Onion seed. Little bit of oxidized wine. Lemon peel. Much stronger on the caraway compared to the others.
- Palate: Sweet, strong anise to start and throughout the cocktail. Toasted, almost burnt caraway on the mid-palate along with hoarhound candy. On the finish, onion seed and a hint of sweet wheat flavor, like a cross between an onion bagel and a graham cracker (but nice ;)) along with some herbal bitterness.
- Nose: Lemon, mint, mild molasses. Hint of floral notes and caraway. Lemon is strongest compared to the others.
- Palate: Lemon and mint to start. Mid-palate is caraway, molasses and hoarhound. Finish has some floral notes with green, herbal, bitter flavors. Toasted grain aftertaste. Fresher and lighter than the other two. Seems a little overwhelmed by the Punt e Mes at first, but after sitting for a bit the flavors integrate more. Still, might want to scale back just a fraction on the vermouth when mixing with the Ole.
As you can see, this spirit is an interesting mix of spicy and herbal flavors, with a more savory bent than most. It’s more versatile than you might realize, and can make a fun substitute for or 50/50 blend with gin in a lot of cocktails. We highly recommend the makers we tasted from today, or if you can’t get them in your market, we’re sure if you search around you’ll have a good chance of finding a local maker in your area too. Expand your horizons and give them a whirl!