When you are out with friends or even making cocktails at home, Aquavit might not be the first spirit you think of including … but it should be.
In fact, there’s a fair chance you might not have even heard of Aquavit, but it is a classic spirit that is definitely seeing a resurgence.
So before you make yourself yet another G&T, the guys from Never Never Distilling want you to give Aquavit a second thought. They, and many other bartenders, are starting to shine a spotlight on this underrated spirit, because they truly believe five centuries worth of distilling can’t be wrong.
In other words, this is definitely a spirit you should be drinking right now.
But What Is It?
When you first drink Aquavit, it will feel very familiar. There is something about it that is comfortable and reassuring, yet it is also different enough to stand out and impress.
It is, as Sean Baxter from Never Never Distilling describes, “Gin’s slightly funkier cousin.”
And that’s actually a really good way to look at it. Like both Gin and Vodka, it is a white, grain distilled spirit. And like Gin it is imbued with botanicals (except of course never with Gin’s signature, Juniper).
And while technically it may be a flavoured Vodka, Baxter believes that to see it that way, would be to underestimate everything that Aquavit offers.
“To simply define it as a flavoured Vodka would be to undersell not only the flavour but also the specialness of the spirit itself,” he said.
In fact, as he points out, it’s in the spirits origins and the botanicals that the true difference and uniqueness of Aquavit lies.
So what’s it all about?
Aquavit has been distilled in many of the Nordic countries for centuries. In fact, it’s actually the national spirit of Scandinavia, although it is also produced in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.
Scandinavians often add Caraway, Anise, Fennel, Cumin, Dill, Coriander and other spices and herbs to cover the harsh flavour of the base alcohol. Although Caraway seeds are a common ingredient, the precise herbal content often varies depending depending on the country in which the spirit is being distilled.
Here at home, Never Never, who have just released their own version, of Aquavit, have gone for a combination of Caraway, Fennel, Dill, Riberry, Cinnamon Myrtle, Strawberry Gum and Macadamia.
Where does the name mean?
Like so many distilled Spirits and Liqueurs, Aquavit has always been valued for its supposed life- and health-promoting properties and at first, was mainly used for medicinal purposes.
And it is for this reason that it, like so many other spirits, derives its name from the latin aqua vitae meaning “water of life”.
Caraway has long been a common flavour in the region and was originally considered a cure for indigestion, as was Aquavit itself.
While no longer used for it’s digestive properties, Baxter points out that Aquavit has a natural ability to pear easily with a variety of foods.
“That signature spice gives Aquavit an overarching savoury character that pairs well with hard-to-pair foods. There is a movement in the food world towards Nordic cuisine and it works so well with the traditional Nordic pickled herrings, smoked fish and pungent cheeses.
“But it is the clean, brightness of the spirit that allows it to pair so well with all sort of seafood,” he continues “especially, in a modern Australian setting it goes so well with everything from crayfish to prawns”.
And it should be celebrated …
Aquavit is typically served at Christmas (or yulebord) in Scandinavia and is used to toast to the coming New Year. It is very much a drink to be enjoyed for special occasions with friends.
“One of the great things about being small is that we can create fun and interesting things for friends,” said Baxter. “And to have friends like PS40, who can create the right type of signature serve is ideal. I love being able to hand over our spirits to a bar that is creative”.
One of the Aquavit cocktails that PS40 have created for Never Never is the aptly named Stockholm Syndrome and they have given us the recipe so you can recreate it at home.
0.5oz Cumin & Dill Vodka
0.67oz Lemon Juice
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Pepper
6 dash Peychard’s Bitters
Add all ingredients to an ice filled shaker. Shake and then strain into an ice filled rocks glass. Garnish with Lemon twist and Dill.
Never Never Distilery’s Aquavit is available through their website for $AUD75