Aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit distilled from potatoes or grains that’s flavored with caraway and other aromatics like citrus peel and whole spices. Also known as aquavite, akvavit, akevitt, or snapps, it's the national spirit of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, and can range in color and flavor depending on the maker.
- Ingredients: Potatoes or grains, herbs, spices
- Proof: 80-90
- ABV: 40-45%
- Calories in a Shot: 100
- Origin: Scandinavia
- Taste: Caraway and dill
What Is Aquavit Made From?
Aquavit is produced very much like vodka or gin, with a distillate of neutral grains or potatoes and infusion of flavoring ingredients. While caraway is the signature spice of aquavit, dill is also very common. The European Union (EU) law requires that caraway and/or dill are included, though other herbs, spices, and citrus flavorings are allowed. Among those are anise, cardamom, citrus peel, clove, juniper, coriander, cumin, and fennel.
Aquavit is typically not barrel-aged, leaving a clear or light-colored spirit that features the unadulterated taste of the aromatics used to flavor it. However, aquavit made in Norway is often aged in used sherry casks, which lends a golden color and stronger flavor. Aquavit must be bottled at a minimum of 35 percent ABV (70 proof), though it most often reaches 42 percent to 45 percent ABV (84 to 90 proof).
What Does Aquavit Taste Like?
Aquavit, especially when unaged, has a neutral background flavor similar to vodka. At the forefront are the flavorings, with caraway up top—think rye bread but in spirit form. The herbaceous flavor is supported by other aromatics like dill, fennel, anise, and clove. Aquavit is a dry spirit and can be almost savory, like a less floral and citrusy gin. Barrel-aging aquavit, depending on what barrels are used, tends to add sweetness and nuttiness.
The regional differences in the production of aquavit result in a range of flavor profiles. Though each is dominated by caraway or dill, the background often focuses on a secondary spice and can vary widely.
- Danish aquavit is usually grain-based and has a stronger dill and coriander flavor.
- Swedish aquavit is grain-based and often has a pronounced anise and fennel flavor.
- Norwegian aquavit is made from potatoes and leans toward a cumin and citrus peel profile. Aging in sherry casks not only mellows the spirit but also imparts a woody, vanilla undertone.
- Taffel is "table" aquavit that is aged in casks, but results in clear liquor.
- American and Canadian aquavit can range widely in flavor profiles, with some distilleries aging their aquavit in barrels.
Where to Buy
Aquavit is a little harder to find in the U.S. than in Europe. And while you likely won't be able to grab a bottle at the corner store, you should be able to find a few options at a liquor store with a good selection. Most bars and restaurants will have one aquavit selection, sometimes listed in the liqueurs section of the menu. Scandinavian restaurants are more likely to have a wide selection of aquavits, sometimes infused in-house.
How to Drink Aquavit
Traditionally, aquavit is enjoyed straight either chilled or at room temperature. In Sweden and Denmark, un-aged aquavit is typically served very cold in shot glasses or stemmed liquor glasses. In Norway, aged aquavit is often served at room temperature in order to fully appreciate the flavor nuances imparted by the barrels.
Aquavit is most often served at celebratory holiday meals in Scandinavia like Easter, Constitution Day, Midsummer, and Christmas. Different varieties of the spirit are served with feasting dishes like shellfish, lamb, and other meat dishes. It can also appear in Christmastime gløgg and the Danish coffee drink kaffepunch.
Mixologists sometimes incorporate aquavit into cocktails, often replacing gin or vodka. The spirit can replace all or part of the hard liquor in a Bloody Mary, Negroni, or Tom Collins.
Swap the vodka or gin in these cocktails with aquavit for a fresh take on the classics.
- Linie Aquavit (Norway)
- Aalborg (Denmark)
- Krogstad (Oregon)
- Brennivin (Iceland)
- North Shore (Illinois)