If you’re Scandinavian, it’s the drink of your roots. If you’re someone who craves savory caraway and herbaceous dill flavors in your cocktail, it’s the spirit of your dreams. We’re talking, of course, about aquavit. The longtime outlier from the other side of the Atlantic tends to get lost on American back bars—until now.
A small but sturdy bunch of domestic distillers are turning out fantastic versions of the Nordic-style neutral spirit. Some drink like a silky vodka; others share the botanical breadth of gin, with notes of fennel, citrus, anise and coriander. Each is elegant, unique and worth folding into your sipping routine. These are the six American aquavits you should try now.
From its home base in Grand Rapids, Mich., Long Road Distillers produces a range of award-winning spirits. Nodding to Europe with Michigan ingredients, its lauded aquavit is one of the best in the States. With a silky base of local red winter wheat, the aquavit is bold with caraway and dill, unfolding with cumin, star anise, fennel and cinnamon. It’s one of the most integrated, memorable of any American-made aquavits you’ll find, and it’s gorgeous in cocktails. Also: Look out for its elegant aged version, currently only available in Michigan: Old aquavit.
San Francisco’s Geijer Spirits, known for its Swedish-style glögg liqueur—a recipe that goes back three generations in the Geijer family—just released its California Aqua Vitae, a vibrant tribute to Sweden and the Golden State. Sweden native Martin Geijer pulls from his roots in a recipe that has been in development for about eight years. He crafts a New World aquavit with the traditional caraway, fennel, orange peel and dill but goes further with black pepper, clove, cardamom, ginger, grapefruit and sage, giving it a rich boldness.
With its freezing winters and Nordic heritage, Minnesota has a thing or two in common with Scandinavia. So it’s no surprise to find great aquavit here. Tattersall Distilling produces a number of notable spirits, including its top-notch aquavit. This caraway-forward, Aalborg/Danish-style aquavit is distilled from 100 percent certified organic corn, with a range of botanicals that includes fennel, mustard seed, coriander, orange, nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon.
In the town of French Lick, Ind., Spirits of French Lick is, admittedly, an unexpected source for aquavit. Master distiller Alan Reed Bishop (with assistant distiller Stephen McNeely) was raised on a third-generation tobacco farm and is both farmer and owner of Bishop’s Homegrown/Face of The Earth seed company. He’s also a distiller who previously plied his trade at Copper & Kings. The classic base of this aquavit (caraway, coriander and dill) is enhanced by citrus and juniper for a more robust spirit that holds up in craft cocktails.It’s available at French Lick Winery and also distributed through Southern Glazer’s.
Right down to it’s rustic packaging, Old Ballard Liquor Co.’s line of aquavits (southern Swedish-style Älskar, Danish-style Midsommar, Norwegian-style Riktig and modern Nymodig) is a nod to Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood with its Scandinavian fishing roots. Owner and distiller Lexi (who goes by her first name) lived in Sweden for a while, and in producing Nymodig (meaning “newfangled” or “modern”), she started with a classic aquavit base of caraway, fennel and anise produced in a drier Danish style with no sweetener added. The licorice notes shine— from fennel, anise seed and star anise—giving way to that long, dry finish.
With the coastal fog and Pacific cool of its Santa Cruz location, brewer turned distiller Sean Venus of Venus Spirits distills aquavit with a classic but forward-thinking combination of caraway seed, juniper, coriander, orange and anise. Venus’ version starts off strong with caraway but bursts into bright orange, working its way into layers of pine, pepper and star anise. (Venus aquavit is currently available in California but also online via K&L Wines or Bitters and Bottles.)
Mixing your cocktail