My favorite week of the year, Aquavit Week, begins today. What do we have in store for 2014? An opening party tonight at The Hop and Vine, a cocktail pairing dinner at Racion, a “Nordic Night” and Fenrir, and more than twenty Portland restaurants featuring aquavit cocktails. It’s also been a good year for aquavit, with the number of aquavits available in the US also surpassing twenty this year. Get all the information at the Aquavit Week website, and hopefully I’ll see you at one of our events around Portland.
It’s getting harder for me to keep up with all the new aquavit coming on to the American market, which is a great thing considering how few bottles were available just a few years ago. When I first started writing about aquavit, there were only four producers in the United States. Now there are at least twice that many, with several of them making multiple expressions. Imports from Europe have increased too. Not long ago Linie was the only one left; in the past year at least three additional imports have come ashore. As I make plans for Aquavit Week 2014, here’s a look at two of the new arrivals.
If you’d told me a year ago that there would be aquavit distilled in Montana before it was made anywhere on the East Coast, I would have been skeptical. But to the best of my knowledge, no American distiller east of Illinois has taken up the challenge of making aquavit. Montgomery Distillery in Missoula, Montana has. My friend Paul Willenberg smuggled back a bottle of their Skadi aquavit on a recent business trip and it’s become one of my favorites.
Named after the goddess of “bowhunting, winter, mountains, and justice,” (how’s that for a resume?), Skadi is vapor-infused with caraway, dill, lemon peel, and other botanicals. The caraway is pleasantly assertive. The spirit would probably be good in cocktails, but I’ve already finished too much of my bottle to try it out. This is one to store in the freezer and drink straight. I only have a couple pours left, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed someone I know is headed to Missoula soon.
The most recent aquavit I’ve purchased is Brennivin, a.k.a. the “Black Death” of Iceland. This is the stuff of legend. Anthony Bourdain drank it on “No Reservations.” It shows up in Kill Bill Vol. 2. Dave Grohl says it makes you feel “like you’ve done acid… like you can’t feel your feet.” One of the first media outlets to cover its arrival in the United States was Vice, of all places. Brennivin is metal.
At least it is if you’ve never tried aquavit. At the risk of destroying its image, to me it’s nice and well-balanced. This is another aquavit I’d gladly drink straight from the freezer, and it also works well in a Negroni-type cocktail. It’s good stuff, and really one of the more approachable aquavits I’ve tried. The label is striking, and at about $35 a liter it’s affordable too.
But most people haven’t tried aquavit. And Iceland, especially, has a weird relationship with alcohol. The country was an early adopter of Prohibition. They legalized liquor in 1935, but didn’t get around to allowing beer until 1989. With beer unavailable, one can imagine why unaccustomed visitors might have found this schnapps intense as the plague. If Dave Grohl promising people that they won’t feel their feet is what it takes to popularize aquavit, then I’m all in favor. Drink that Black Death.
As it turns out, I didn’t have time for a proper midsommar celebration, but we made up for it with a party this past weekend at which we imbibed nine different aquavits, enjoyed Swedish meatballs and gravlax, and sat by a big fire. Before turning to the traditional schnapps, we kicked things off with an aquavit punch:
2 cups raspberry-infused aquavit
3/4 cups lemon juice
3/4 cups Pavan
1/2 cup sugar
peel of four lemons
2 bottles dry sparkling wine, chilled
Start by infusing the aquavit with a couple dozen or so raspberries. This can be a quick infusion; about an hour is fine. We used Krogstad Festlig but feel free to substitute others.
Then make an oleo-saccharum with the lemon peels and sugar — Michael Dietsch explains how here. Combine this with the aquavit, leaving the macerated berries in, along with the lemon juice, Pavan, and sparkling wine. Add a block of ice if you have it and ladle into ice-filled glasses.
Pavan is a new liqueur on the market. Made with muscat grapes and orange blossoms, it’s lightly floral, sweet, and tart. It’s an easy match with fruit and sparkling wine, and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to use it. This punch turned out to be the perfect application.
If you write about spirits and cocktails, you know all too well that there a thousand manufactured holidays that can be used as excuse to drink. My inbox overflows with tone deaf pitches urging me to feature a client’s product in my “coverage” of “National Hot Dog Day” or whatever the irrelevant tie-in of the moment happens to be.
None of these pitches ever mention aquavit, because aquavit doesn’t have that kind of marketing budget. But this weekend is actually a real holiday and a real excuse to drink aquavit. Tonight is the summer solstice, AKA midsommar, the longest day of the year. If you live in Scandinavia, that’s a great reason to stay up all night with food, fire, and spirits. And if you don’t live in Scandinavia, just pretend that you do.
As it happens, I have two new aquavits to celebrate with this year, courtesy of Gamle Ode. Created by Mike McCarron, based in Minnesota, and distilled in Wisconsin, Gamle Ode produces a Dill Aquavit that I’ve mentioned here before; I named it “Best New Spirit” for 2012. Now Mike has two more aquavits on the market.
Before reviewing those, let’s pause for a moment to note how unique that is. There are only five aquavit producers that I’m aware of in the United States. All of the others make a range of spirits, most of them much more familiar, like vodka and gin. Even European aquavit distillers don’t view the American market as a growth opportunity. Yet here is Mike building an entire brand around the spirit. And he’s not just making one aquavit, he’s making three of them. That takes a special kind of passion, or maybe even craziness. I’m sure it helps that he contracts with 45th Parallel to distill them, thus reducing the initial investment, but to my mind that makes Gamle Ode one of the most innovative and imaginative craft spirit brands in the United States.
Here are Gamle Ode’s newest spirits:
Holiday Aquavit — Just like it sounds, the Holiday aquavit incorporates traditional winter spices. This is a jule aquavit, released once a year in the winter. From Gamle Ode’s own description: “The Holiday Aquavit builds on Gamle Ode’s unique dill, caraway and juniper recipe, adding a holiday mélange of orange peels, mint, and allspice.” After distillation it’s aged for six months in red wine barrels from Alexis Bailly Vineyard, imparting a rich hue for such a young spirit.
The flavor profile on this very interesting. The dill comes through in the beginning, then the orange and spice notes take over for a long finish. I like it on its own and I can also see a lot of potential for it in cocktails; I can see it working very well with fortified wines and a dash or two of bitters.
Celebration Aquavit — Gamle Ode’s Celebration Aquavit takes the prize for most complex aquavit available in the US. The list of botanicals includes fresh dill, caraway, juniper, star aniseed, vanilla, orange, and lemon. This is then aged in a mix of barrels to give it a pale straw color: The Alexis Bailly barrels mentioned above, and bourbon barrels from 45th Parallel Spirits.
Mike describes this as his “aquavit’s aquavit.” While the Dill and Holiday offerings highlight less common flavors, this one emphasizes the caraway and anise a little more. No single ingredient dominates, however. It’s very well balanced, complex, and lingers for a long time. This is just a great spirit, my favorite of the three Gamle Ode aquavits. It reminds me a bit of an Old Tom, though obviously with a very different botanical profile. I’m sipping on it now in a Martinez and it’s working wonderfully.
Unless you live in certain parts of the Midwest, you probably can’t find these spirits at your local liquor store yet. But I encourage you to request them and see if you can get them in your state. In the meantime, NPR has some tips for enjoying a midsommar celebration. And if you’re looking for aquavit cocktails, my drink archive has a whole page of them.
As I’ve said before, if you like gin, there’s no reason you shouldn’t like aquavit. It can be just as botanically complex and deserves much more exploration as a cocktail ingredient. This weekend is a great time to give it a shot.
[Image courtesy of Gamle Ode.]
When we hosted Aquavit Week at Metrovino back in December, there was one American version that we weren’t able to bring into state stores in time to feature. Distilled in Wisconsin and based in Minnesota, Gamle Ode dill aquavit has been a standout for everyone I’ve introduced to it. It’s excellent chilled straight from the freezer, but my favorite way to drink it is in a simple twist on the classic Collins. I first wrote about this drink for Culinate, and now that the spirit has finally made it to Oregon, it’s on our regular menu at Metrovino.
1 1/2 oz Gamle Ode dill aquavit
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup (1:1)
dill or lemon peel for garnish
Build in a rocks or collins glass with ice, stir gently, and garnish.
I’m going to say right up front that the proportions called for in this recipe are a bit crazy. This was my entry into the 2012 Cherry Heering Sling Award competition, in which competitors were challenged to make their own variation on the Singapore Sling. The catch? The initial rules that I read mandated the use of at least two ounces of Heering. I like the stuff, but that is a lot of it! Looking at the site now it appears that one ounce is all that was required, so I’m not sure what happened there. In any case, this is a very tasty drink and it made the top ten in the competition. Besides, sometimes a super-sized tropical cocktail is just what the doctor ordered.
2 oz cherry Heering
1 oz Krogstad Festlig aquavit
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Angostura bitters
2 oz sparkling wine
1/2 orange wheel, for garnish
cherries, for garnish
sprig tarragon, for garnish
Pour the sparkling wine into a chalice filled with ice. Shake all the other ingredients with ice and strain into the goblet. Garnish with the fruit and tarragon.
For Aquavit Week at Metrovino, we’ve downsized the drink to more sensible proportions. Here’s a revised recipe:
1 oz cherry Heering
3/4 oz Linie aquavit
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz sparkling wine
1/2 orange wheel, for garnish
cherries, for garnish
1 sprig tarragon, for garnish
Serve as above, in a rocks glass instead of a chalice. The drink is a bit drier in this formulation, so feel free to add more Heering for greater lushness.
I’ve been making the case for a while that aquavit is an underrated spirit. Many bars don’t carry it at all, and those that do usually only have one bottle. But with more American distillers trying their hands at this traditionally Scandinavian spirit, we decided it was time to host an Aquavit Week at Metrovino.
Aquavit Week kicks off Tuesday, December 11 with an all-aquavit cocktail menu and an aquavit-inspired beer from Breakside Brewing. The cocktail menu will have six cocktails featuring six different aquavits: Krostad Festlig and Gamle (Portland), Bull Run’s forthcoming Regnig Dag aquavit (Portland), North Shore (Chicago), Sound Spirits (Seattle), and Linie (Norway). To show off aquavit’s versatility in mixing, the cocktails range from spirit-forward to citrusy, from sparkling wine to a Hot Toddy. We’ll also have chef Dustin See’s house cured gravlax on hand to pair with the drinks. The cocktails and food will be available all week.
The beer is a fun project that brewmaster Ben Edmunds invited me to collaborate with him on at Breakside Brewing. New Nordic Porter is inspired by the flavors of aquavit and cutting edge Nordic cuisine. It’s a classic porter flavored with caraway, dill and fennel pollens, and a hint of plum. It’s on tap at Metrovino this Tuesday only and at the Breakside brewpub.
The newest aquavit we’re featuring is Bull Run’s, which will be out in limited quantities very soon. We’re pouring it in this riff on the Boulevardier, the Swordplay:
1 1/2 oz Bull Run Regnig Dag aquavit
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Maurin Quina
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
I would have liked to include Gamle Ode dill aquavit in this event, but we weren’t able to get it into Oregon in time. However if all goes well, we’ll have it here sometime soon. I highly recommend it.
The full cocktail menu is below. Come get it next week.
Bull Run aquavit, Campari, Maurin Quina
Aquavit and Tonic
Sound Spirits aquavit, house dill and mustard seed tonic, lime
Krogstad Festlig aquavit, lemon, sugar, sriracha bitters, sparkling wine
North Shore aquavit, Dolin blanc vermouth, Galliano, celery bitters
Linie aquavit, cherry Heering, lime, Angostura bitters, sparkling wine
Aquavit Hot Toddy
Krogstad Gamle aquavit, house Swedish punsch, lemon, star anise
Last month I completed my collection of all the commercial aquavits distilled in the United States. That’s not as difficult as it sounds, since there are only four of them. However I think that aquavit is a very underrated spirit for mixing into cocktails, so hopefully these four are just the tip of the iceberg. I won’t be surprised if we start seeing aquavit appear on more and more cocktail menus. My latest article for Culinate reviews aquavits from Krogstad, North Shore, Sound Spirits, and Gamle Ode, along with a cocktail recipe for each. Check it out here.
[Photo courtesy of Culinate.]
A few weeks ago David Solmonson of 12 Bottle Bar, one of my favorite cocktail blogs, asked me if I’d like to be a guest contributor for a series of holiday drinks posts. He was lifting their usual twelve bottle restriction for the series, so contributors were free to call for whatever they pleased. For me this seemed the perfect opportunity to post a new sparkling cocktail, the Stockholm 75, made with aquavit, lemon, sugar, sparkling wine, and sriracha bitters for a touch of spice. Click over to 12 Bottle Bar for the recipe, or if you’re in Portland stop into Metrovino to try one for yourself.
Be sure to browse the other recent posts for more guest contributions. It’s a great line-up, with guests including David Wondrich, Camper English, Gary Regan, and more. My thanks to David for inviting me to take part!
[Photo from 12 Bottle Bar.]
We have one guest post for this Mixology Monday. This one’s from my friend Paul Willenberg, who gives the Kamikaze a new twist with aquavit and a healthy dose of orange bitters. Take it away Paul:
I’ve never participated in a Mixology Monday but this topic, along with the fact that my friend Jake is hosting, is too good to pass up. Now I’m no professional bartender, I just have a little bierstube.
Here are Jake’s Rules and here are mine. When revisiting a cocktail, you must honor one or more but not all or none of the following of the original:
1) base spirit
Now the original Kamikaze is equal parts vodka, triple sec, and lime juice, and the intent is a sweet drink that can be done as a shot to get chicks drunk. For my revival, I’ve chosen to honor #’s 5 and 4, and not flout 2 and 1. pSo I’ve replaced the vodka with a flavored vodka (aquavit) and the triple sec with a combo of (actually) orange things, and asked the lime to sit down a bit. The result is a very spice-forward and sippable, but also shot worthy drink.
2 oz Linie Aquavit
1/2 oz Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
1/4 oz Grand Marnier
1/4 oz lime juice
Shake all ingredients and garnish with peel.
This drink violates at least two of my general rules for making good cocktails: 1) It’s blue and 2) It’s made with MD “Mad Dog” 20/20, the convenience store favorite for brown bagging it in the park. The blame for this abomination goes to Thrillist Portland, which is profiling a few of the city’s best restaurants with outdoor patios and asked each one to create a special off-menu item exclusively for Thrillist readers. The challenge they issued to me at Metrovino was to make a drink using Mad Dog as an ingredient. So if any of my recent house guests were worried about the bottle of MD 20/20 in my refrigerator, rest assured that it had a legitimate purpose. (The bottle of Ardbeg in the shower, however, is definitely cause for concern.)
There are multiple flavors of Mad Dog to choose from, but I couldn’t resist the allure of the “bling bling” on the label of Blue Raspberry. This liquid is a totally unnatural shade of blue and its flavor is sickly sweet. It’s not going to replace the Carpano Antica in my Manhattans anytime soon. But mix it with a strongly flavored spirit like aquavit, add some acidity with lime juice, soften everything up with some pillowy egg white, and you’ve got yourself a drink that’s pretty damn tasty and priced for the recession. You’ve got yourself a Dalbo Dog:
2 oz Krogstad aquavit
3/4 oz Blue Raspberry MD “Mad Dog” 20/20
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz agave nectar
3 drops Novo Fogo Cherribiscus bitters for garnish
Dry shake all but the bitters, shake again with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and finish by etching the bitters on the foam into adorable little heart shapes.
The Dalbo Dog is just for Thrillist readers, but now you’re in the know too. Stop into Metrovino this month and this summery blue little number will only set you back eight bucks. Also be sure to check out Thrillist for some of the other off-menu items in Portland, including a ramped up burger at Yakuza that sounds amazing.
(The Dalbo Dog is an extinct Swedish breed used for herding sheep. Here’s a photo; awww.)
[Photo by Thrillist.]
June’s theme will be “favorite niche spirit”, so any cocktail where the base ingredient is not bourbon, gin, rum, rye, tequila, vodka etc would qualify. So whether you choose Mezcal or Armagnac get creative and showcase your favorite niche spirit.
You know what bottle I empty the most at my house? I mean aside from Bols Genever. It’s Krogstad Aquavit, made here in Portland by House Spirits. It’s a very anise-forward spirit flavored with star anise and caraway, and I absolutely love making cocktails with it.
This one, Scandinavian Spring, I’m adding to the menu at Metrovino this week:
1 1/2 oz Krogstad Aquavit
1/2 oz Maurin Quina
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz honey-lavender syrup
Shake, strain, and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Maurin Quina is a product I’ve been eager to get on the Oregon market and it finally arrived in stores this month. It’s a fortified white wine flavored with quinine, cherries, lemon, and cherry brandy. It’s delicious stuff, either chilled as an aperitif or as an ingredient in mixed drinks.
There’s a lot going on in this cocktail, but the flavors come together really nicely. To make the honey-lavender syrup, combine 1 cup hot water, 1/2 cup honey, and 1/4 cup lavender, let cool, and strain.
It’s Labor Day in Portland and the weather couldn’t be better for grilling out. For today, anyway. It looks like the wonderful Portland summer is starting to give way to months of rain, but I knew what I was getting into when I moved here. To enjoy the sun while we can, here’s a cocktail to cap the summer with. We served this at Hop and Vine a few weeks ago to celebrate their two year anniversary. The Terrible Two is a refreshing, easy drink made for cooling off outside:
1.5 oz Krogstad aquavit
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake the first four ingredients, serve in a rocks glass over ice, top with a splash of soda, and stir.
Back in the fall, cocktail blogger Matthew Rowley suggested that a good Mixology Monday theme would be “hard drinks for hard times.” Paul Clarke says he had doubts about the idea. The next available MxMo slot wasn’t available until February and by then the economic hard times might be over, right? Hahahahahahaha. But that’s all right, Paul was just worried about planning a blog event. It’s not like he quit his job and decided to move to the West Coast with no particular plan in mind and has been massively underemployed for six months. *Ahem*
Yes, well, moving on. Matthew, unfortunately, has been laid off, and we’re all feeling the pinch from the recession. Well, not all of us. If you’re connected to the federal government, there’s $787 billion up for grabs. Why shouldn’t bartenders get a slice of the pie? Last week I sent my representatives in Congress, Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer, a letter making the case for allocating some of that stimulus package to my proposal for a lame vodka bar:
It is my understanding that Congress has set aside $800 billion to help stimulate the economy and is looking for ways to spend it. There are many “shovel-ready” projects like bridges and hospitals competing to receive these funds. These are all great ideas — you can never have enough bridges and hospitals — but they take a long time to get going. I have my own project in mind and I’d like to propose spending some of the stimulus money on it.
I am a bartender and moved to Portland about four months ago, before the economy tanked completely. I’m only working one night a week. I have a lot of experience and creativity though and I’m confident that I could start up a really awesome bar. I have some great locations picked out and am ready to start anytime. The only obstacle is obtaining funding. Since banks are more interested in getting a return on investment than making sacrifices to stimulate the economy, I figure we should work together on this. There are several reasons why opening a bar would be excellent stimulus for the economy.
Bartenders have a big multiplier effect: For stimulus to be effective, we have to be sure that the money is re-injected into the economy and not socked away in savings. Nobody spends money like bartenders. If we work together to open a bar, you can be sure that my employees will spend 100% (or more) of their earnings. Most of that money will be given directly to other bartenders, or maybe strippers, who will also spend it right away, continuing the cycle. I’m confident that my staff would multiply spending far more than people in more responsible professions.
Production is fast: Spirits like whiskey can take years, even decades, to age. My bar will focus entirely on vodka and flavored vodka, which is ready to sell almost immediately after distillation. Our vodka purchases will encourage producers to increase production, buying grains from our nation’s farmers and equipment from our manufacturers. And we’ll be sure to only serve American vodkas, not those from Russia or, even worse, France. (I’m willing to make this a condition of receiving stimulus funds.)
We spill a lot: My bartenders will specialize in flair, juggling bottles in an amazing display of alcoholic dexterity. This requires hours of training and we’re sure to spill a lot vodka and shatter a lot of bottles while we’re practicing, forcing us to buy much more liquor than other bars. This will stimulate the economy even further.
We create positive externalities: Keynes argued that “animal spirits” are an important factor in macroeconomic behavior. By inebriating and entertaining our customers, we will excite their animal spirits and dull their judgment so that they are once again eager to invest. (Obviously my bar alone won’t save the economy, but similar bars could be opened throughout the country. Maybe we could franchise?)
We’ll name a drink after you: Everyone remembers great leaders like General Manhattan, Captain James Daiquiri, and Colonel Sazerac thanks to the cocktails that bear their names. In honor of your leadership during this economic crisis, I would gladly name a drink on our menu after you.
I realize this is an unorthodox proposal, but extreme times call for novel thinking. My bar is shovel-ready. As a sign of my commitment, I’ll even buy the shovel. I look forward to working with you to save the American economy.
Sadly, not one of the congressmen has responded yet. I was ready to stimulate the shit out of this economy, but instead I have to mix drinks at home. You fail, legislators.
This is a cocktail I’ve been playing with a lot recently, and it uses only ingredients I had on hand — nothing new purchased for this MxMo. I call it the Horatio:
2 oz Krogstad aquavit
.75 oz Cointreau
1 barspoon Fernet Branca*
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a round of orange peel expressed over the drink. I don’t always include brand names in a recipe, but in this case each bottling is distinctive. That’s not to say you can’t make substitutions, just know what you’re dealing with.
The name references aquavit’s Scandinavian heritage. Aquavit is the primary ingredient, but with the powerful Fernet Branca hailing from Italy, you might say this cocktail is more an antique Roman than a Dane.
If you don’t have aquavit and Fernet on hand, fear not. A bottle of Jack and a couple of ice cubes will serve you just fine.
*Update 3/9/09: I’ve tinkered with this recipe a bit since originally posting it, cutting down slightly on the Fernet Branca. This gives it a less syrupy mouthfeel.