Meet Akvavit – the Obscure Nordic Spirit

Akvavit is misunderstood, an obscure Nordic spirit where every country in the region has its own rules and standards on production, aging and packaging. A relatively simple distillate of caraway and dill with neutral spirit according to the European Union, each country has an expression of true terroir that is regional specific in a way that not many spirits can attest to. The word Akvavit simply translates to the “water of life” and for the drinking rituals of Scandinavia, it could not be closer to the truth.

Every country in the Scandinavian region drinks this clear, aperitif liquid in different ways. From special occasions including crayfish boils and fermented shark to being drunk as an aperitif in their everyday routine, the drinking of akvavit, chilled and served neat is a widespread ritual of Nordic life. I feel in love with it in Iceland late in 2015, I had always loved akvavit and used it regularly in cocktails but being in Canada and more specifically British Columbia, the selection was never wowing. Until travelling to Iceland and enjoying a few shots of Brennivin or “Black Death” I truly began to understand the slight differences in styles from country to country.

Local akvavit such as Long Table Langbord and Aquavitus from Okanagan Spirits are amazing expressions of how the region, the terroir and the distillery can create an amazing complex spirit that represents their home. On the market in British Columbia, the selection has slowly got better with Brennivin hitting the shelves along with Bornholmer and Aalborg from Denmark. Blind tasting these spirits and showcasing the difference in complexity is an amazing experience especially when enjoying some of the very rare barrel aged akvavits from producers such as Linie in Norway and the special Christmas release of Brennivin.

Ryan Malcolm, local bartender and your friendly Saltspring Island Beer sales representative love all things akvavit and has been a big proponent of the spirit for years, he is always pushing for akvavit to be used in cocktails more, “For a lot of reasons. First and foremost because I love the flavor of caraway, and I like working savory flavors into cocktails and also because some akvavits have strong herbaceous characters while not being as dry as say – absinthe. Which makes it a go to for me when making sweet/savory things like a slushy akvavit daiquiri”. The mixability of the spirit sits between vodka and gin, more complex than vodka but with more approachable flavours then gin.

Creating a cocktail with akvavit is simple, start by substituting vodka or gin into the recipe and create a complex drink that is still approachable for your guests. This is an Icelandic take on a classic Vesper, changing up the proportions and spot of the gin and vodka in the drink with the addition of the equally intense bittersweet vermouth. Showcasing akvavit is as simple as this; put a little a Scandinavian love into your drinks.



1 ½ Brennivin Akvavit

½ oz Hendricks’s Gin

½ oz Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth

Dash of Bittered Sling Lem-Marakesh Bitters


Glass – Small coupe

Method – Stir & strain

Garnish – lemon twist

Written By:

one of the most recognized bartenders in his homeland of Australia at the time, and relocated here for love with the city’s honest and unpretentious food and drinks (and for his lovely now-wife). In his years here, Shawn has ...

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