Aquavit: Gin’s Sexy Older Cousin
If you have yet to catch on that I have a deep penchant for botanical distillations, allow me to reiterate as such. My obsession with botanical distillation is likely for a multitude of reasons; their difficulty, the blending and balancing of unique characteristics, and also for their history and use as aperitifs and digestifs as well as their early alchemical ties to ceremonial distillations. Aquavit in particular has always been high on my list of projects to tackle, I just needed the right platform to make it happen. Luckily enough Spirits of French Lick happened to be that platform. In recent years Aquavit has begun to develop a following and a few “craft” distilleries, particularly on the west coast, have begun to create some really wonderful spirits. We hope to add to this growing trend with our own unique take on the spirit.
For those who don’t know what aquavit is, allow me to elaborate a bit on its history and usage. Think of Aquavit as Gin’s Sexy Cousin. Both spirits have their origins around the same time and stemming from the Alchemical aqua vitae treatises, a collection of writings and recipes for distillation that was both practical and spiritual, although recipes for an Aquavit like perfumed spirit predate these treatises by some time. Both Aquavit and Gin use either neutral alcohol (think blank canvas) or perhaps lightly flavored whiskey or brandy for their base and rely on the combination of unique botanicals to provide the flavor and “color” (taste, tonality) of the spirit. Aquavit leans a lot more towards the savory Caraway and Coriander spectrum and away from the Juniper-led Gin style.
Historically Aquavit was the preferred beverage of the Scandinavian countries, served chilled before large feasts and used to “cure” or “remedy” any number of maladies including alcoholism ironically enough. Aquavit saw its most extensive folk remedy use during the “black death” when it was administered to the afflicted to break fevers and balance the humors of the ailing body. Much like any liquor, it probably didn’t do much but make the patient forget about the problem, if only momentarily. Aquavit is still the go-to beverage for the Scandinavian populace and is ever present at family feasts. Its usage as a Digestif and Aperitif having never waned in popularity, it is now finally like its cousin Gin: finding its footing in the new world where its use as a cocktail spirit is becoming much more common.
Traditionally the drinking ceremony of Aquavit was tied closely to Viking customs, all of those to partake would typically stand in a circle with their right hand behind their back, small Aquavit glass in left hand and held to the chest and looking one another in the eyes, one would proclaim “Skol” and the shot of chilled Aquavit was downed as a shot. There is much symbiology in this ceremony as the arm behind the back is to show others that you mean no harm and are not armed and the focused eyes show that you are aware of your surroundings and possible enemies. You drink the shot without raising your head so as not to expose your throat to a potential enemy. Even the name of the toast, Skol, is a throwback to small drinking cups of Viking origins (some say the word is the derivative of skull).
We distill a blend of Caraway, Coriander, Juniper, Citrus, and very light Dill with a mixture of five other botanicals in our pot still Sophia to create our Aquavit. The base of this recipe (Caraway, Coriander, and Dill) was taken from the Aqua Vitae Treatises itself which we expanded upon to create something very unique to our style of distillation. Gorgeous notes of Caraway and Coriander dance with Citrus on the pallet when taken as a shot but really shine in cocktail recipes where Gin is usually the main player.
We even created our own highball cocktail for our Aquavit using Earnest Hemmingway’s favorite Absinthe cocktail; a death in the afternoon for the inspiration. We call it A Death in West Baden! Take one 8-ounce high ball glass, fill it with crushed ice; add 2 ounces of French Lick Moscato, one or two ounces of our Aquavit, top up with Sierra Mist and express some sweet orange oil and garnish with orange peel. Breakfast of champions!