Aquavit - Scandinavian for DIY Booze September 03 2021
In researching my collaboration with Jacob Grier, 33 Aquavits, I became fascinated with this spirit's unique culture and traditions. Here's one favorite tidbit you might find inspiring.
There are two main traditions when it comes to making aquavit, Scandinavia's signature spirt.
In modern times, of course, you can go into any well-stocked liquor store in Stockholm or Oslo or Rekjavik or Copenhagen (or Portland), and purchase a well-made bottle of caraway- (and/or dill-) flavored snaps for your refreshment. Pop it in the freezer, and Sven's your uncle.
But there is another tradition I find perhaps more interesting - making aquavit at home. In the days before prohibition, many households in Scandinavia had their own alcohol stills, used to preserve excess grain and other seasonal ingredients from the harvest for later use as medicine and/or social lubricant. In modern times, home distillation is less common (actually illegal in many countries), but family recipes for aquavit persevere in another form - "infused aqavit" which I think is just about the ... ahem ... coolest thing.
The basic idea is this - take an off-the-shelf vodka, and infuse it with your own special, seasonal ingredients. It's a fun way to capture fleeting flavors and enjoy them year-round.
I made two different infused aquavits, both flavored primarily with caraway,* as well as other seasonal ingredients I had at-hand. Try my recipes for yourself, or use them as a springboard for your own concoctions. My advice - taste frequently - spices extract quickly, particularly with higher ABV spirits. I sampled a small spoonful every day until I was happy with the flavor, keeping in mind that colder serving temperatures will tend to mute flavors, so a little "bigger" flavor than you want is actually okay. When you're satisfied, strain the liquid through a coffee filter into a clean bottle and put it in the freezer until you're ready to serve! Some traditional recipes I read actually age in a pantry for up to 6 months, but I'm not quite that patient.
My college friend Sara brought me some amazing rhubarb from her garden, the inspiration for this recipe. I've made it twice now! It's so good! Redder rhubarb will actually color the final aquavit, giving it a beautiful ruby color that complements its flavor. We consumed it together with a smorgasbord featuring gravlax and smoked salmon. It's said that aquavit helps the fish swim!
- 750 mL Vodka (I used Smirnoff 100 proof )
- 72g Rhubarb Stalks, split into 1/2" wide strips
- 3 Tsp. Caraway Seeds
- 1 Tsp. Coriander Seeds
- 1/2 tsp. Fennel Seeds
- 2 Tsp. Fresh Lemon Peel
- 7g Sliced Fresh Ginger
Steep the above in a glass jar for 3-5 days, shaking to mix at least once per day. Sample daily. When desired flavor has been reached, strain contents through a coffee filter into a clean jar or bottle, discarding spices and rhubarb. Keep in freezer until ready to serve in small, shippable snaps glasses. Don't shoot - savor the flavor.
Licorice Fern Aquavit
My crunchy country children attend a nature camp not far from our home just outside Portland. They go on long hikes, build fires, and learn how to identify plants and animals. My 8-year-old daughter can already name more trees than this veteran woodworker and former boy scout! This spring, they brought home a bowl full of licorice root, which literally grows on trees in the Pacific Northwest. Its stems taste strongly of ... you guessed it, licorice of the black variety.
Licorice Fern made a great-tasting, totally unique and naturally-sweet infused aquavit the color of bourbon. Here's my recipe:
- 750 mL Vodka (I used Absolute Elyx, made from Swedish-grown winter wheat)
- 33g Licorice Fern roots (discard leaves)
- 3 tsp. Caraway Seeds
- 1 Star Anise Pod
- 3 Cardamom Pods
Steep the above in a glass jar for 3-5 days, shaking to mix at least once per day. Sample daily. When desired flavor has been reached, strain contents through a coffee filter into a clean jar or bottle, discarding spices and licorice root. Keep in freezer until ready to serve in small, shippable snaps glasses. Don't shoot it - savor the flavor.