What is aquavit?

Aquavit is a grain- or potato-based spirit, flavored mainly with caraway seeds and/or dill. A wide range of other herbs and botanicals is also frequently used, as well as spices like aniseed, coriander seeds, and citrus peel.

Herbs, spices, and other flavouring ingredients are either extracted in alcohol and the extract added to the aquavit, or the extract is distilled, and the distillate is added to the aquavit.

Alcohol content is most often about 40 % ABV, and sugar typically between 3 and 10 g/l.

Norwegian aquavit

“Norwegian aquavit” is a protected designation of origin that includes only barrel matured aquavits. These are made using a minimum of 95 % potato-based spirits from Norwegian potatoes.

There is a minimum requirement of six months maturation in oak barrels. Sometimes the barrels have previously contained products like Sherry or other wines that may influence the aquavits flavour.

A wide and growing diversity of both oaked and un-oaked styles of aquavit is also produced in Norway, as well as in the other Nordic countries.

Styles of aquavit

One group of styles consists of clear aquavits without any oak influence and aroma dominated by dill or caraway together with other herbs and citrus peel.

At the other side of the spectrum are those with a golden or even brownish hue, aroma from sweet spices like caraway, aniseed, and vanilla, heavily influenced by several years of oak maturation.

In between these two you will find a mixed variety of styles. 

Aquavit with food

The young, unoaked, and more herbaceous aquavits are typically combined with seafood or sandwiches typical of a Swedish smorgasbord.

The spicier, caraway-dominated, and oak matured acquits lend themselves to hearty traditional food based around cured, salted, and cooked fish and meat - typical Christmas dishes.

Since the aquavit will dominate the food anyway, the most important is to choose an aquavit that you like.

Etymology: aqua vitae

The word aquavit - spelled akevitt in Norwegian and akvavit in Swedish and Danish - is derived from Latin aqua vitae. In French, clear fruit brandy is called au de vie. The word whiskey has its origin in the word uisge-beatha in Irish and Scottish Gaelic language.

They all have the same meaning (you have probably guessed it by now): “water of life”.