What? A spirit distilled from a fermented grain or potato mash in the same way as vodka, then redistilled alongside herbs and spices, usually caraway, cardamom, cumin, anise, fennel and citrus peel. The name is derived from Latin Aqua Vitae meaning 'Water of Life'.
Where? Just about all production of Aquavit comes from the Scandinavian countries where it is traditionally drunk at times of celebration. In Denmark it is associated with both Christmas and Easter. The Norwegians drink it also at Christmas and Easter but it is particularly popular on May 17th, their National Day. For the Swedes there is nothing better than some Aquavit to accompany their midsummer celebrations along with their drinking songs.
When? There is evidence that Aquavit has been drunk in the Scandinavian countries since 1531 when, in a letter to the Archbishop of Norway, a Danish lord offer him some 'Aqua Vitae' which will help with all illnesses of the body and the mind. Throughout the years that followed the drink was mainly made by distilling wine but around the time of phylloxera, the ravenous louse that destroyed pretty much the whole of Europe’s wine production, the Swedes started making Aquavit from much cheaper grain and later potatoes.
How? How you drink Aquavit depends on which country you are in. Here's how the Scandinavians do it.
Denmark: Never to be sipped. In Denmark you must always toast your companions by raising your glass and saying "Skal" then making eye contact with your party before knocking the aquavit back. Here's the important part! You must never put your glass back down before making eye contact once again. Usually followed by a glass of beer and accompanied with herring and smorrebrod (open sandwiches).
Sweden: The Swedes drink it in a similar way to the Danes but instead of the dignified pleasantries their ritual is bathed in song. They keep singing before, during and after each round of shots with increasing enthusiasm. Again, they follow their shots with a beer and accompanied with pickled herring, shellfish and potatoes.
Norway: The Norwegians like to do things a little differently. Rather than drink the aquavit then the beer, they drink the beer then the sip aquavit, no shooting it back here. The idea is that after the beer the aquavit does not seem so strong and the flavours are more appreciated. Because Norwegian aquavit tends to have more herbs and spices in it than others, it accompanies rich foods including traditional sheep’s head dishes.
Where To Start? If your main tipple is vodka or gin, start with the lighter, more subtle flavours that are associated with Danish and Swedish Aquavits. If you are more into you whiskies and rums, some of the oak aged styles from Norway will be more your thing. Try them in different situations, with beers, with food or just on their own and you will soon discover what you like.