Celebrating life with a drink of aquavit

Here are some of the aquavits on the market. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Courtesy of Krista Slater

Credit: Courtesy of Krista Slater

Here are some of the aquavits on the market. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Aqua vitae,” or water of life, is a Latin expression that Europeans have been using for distilled spirits since at least the 13th century.

In France, the similar phrase “eau de vie” usually refers to brandies, while, in Gaelic, “uisce beatha” (also meaning water of life) is Irish for whisky. The idea that distilled spirits are thought to have medicinal qualities also holds true in Scandinavian countries, where they produce a spirit known as “aquavit,” whose name has the same meaning.

The distinguishing characteristic of aquavit is the use of caraway as a flavoring component, although some countries and distillers also use dill seed. Other spices or herbs (such as fennel and rosemary) often are incorporated.

Many aquavits are clear and crisp, and they usually are consumed neat and cold — one shot at a time. There also are golden, barrel-aged versions, like those in Norway, where the barrels are put on a ship that sails over the equator twice. What is traditional also is practical, as the heat and agitation on the ocean speed up the aging process.

Here are some of our favorite aquavits on the market. Skål!

Åhus akvavit. This aquavit from Sweden is a modern interpretation of the spirit, although the distillery dates to 1906. Fennel, rosemary, lemon and Seville orange peels are added to the mix, in addition to caraway. It is reminiscent of citrus-forward New World gins and, at 76 proof, can be sipped cold and neat, or substituted in gin sours, such as an aviation.

Brennivin aquavit. This one hails from Iceland, and its name translates to “burning wine.” This distillate is clean, crisp and heavy on the caraway. Brennivin wasn’t imported to the U.S. until 2014, but quickly gained a following (Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters has been spotted wearing a T-shirt with the Brennivin logo). Sip it ice-cold with your bagel and lox at brunch, or add it to a Harry’s bloody mary, in lieu of vodka, for a little more flavor.

Lysholm Linie aquavit. This Norwegian version of aquavit is produced following the twice-over-the-equator tradition. The rye-bread taste of caraway is here, along with some wood tannin from the barrel-aging. The company suggests ginger beer as a mixer, and this accents some of the spirit’s other spices, including star anise. We think it makes a fine substitute for barrel-aged Old Tom gin in a classic Martinez.

Tattersall toasted coconut aquavit. It is no coincidence that American aquavit usually is made where Scandinavian immigrants settled, like Oregon or the upper Midwest. We love this outlier from River Falls, Wisconsin. Tattersall’s toasted coconut version is like a fresh bottle of Coppertone, but caraway helps it have a dry finish, with no cloying sweetness.

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