SB Voices: Is aquavit a future hit?

10th March, 2017 by Amy Hopkins

As the world embraces the somewhat elusive but captivating concept of Hygge, Amy Hopkins examines why the time is ripe for an international Scandinavian spirits renaissance.

SB’s deputy editor Amy Hopkins predicts a revival of aquavit in leading cocktail bars

‘Hygge’ is a Danish-Norwegian word that defies any literal translation into English, but is largely thought to refer to taking pleasure in simple everyday comforts. Think cosiness, contentedness, togetherness – being in front of a roaring fire while the rain lashes outside, glass of wine in one hand, good book in the other, fluffy socks on feet. Of course, this is a massive simplification of the centuries-old concept, but you get the idea. ‘Hygge’ was even named runner-up in Collins’s Words of the Year 2016, second to ‘Brexit’, and has featured throughout numerous lifestyle magazines over the past year or two.

In line with Hygge hype, the cocktail and bar worlds seem to be more actively embracing Scandinavian spirits ­– particularly aquavit, or akvavit (or akevitt). Just take a look at the pop-up bar scene in London over the winter months: venues like The London Edition’s Après Ski Lodge and Selfridges’s Forest Restaurant & Bar brought a glamorous sense of après dining and drinking down from the slopes and into the city. Coq d’Argent’s Lodge d’Argent event is always a hotly anticipated annual fixture in The Spirits Business’s calendar.

Mia Johansson (left) and Monica Berg (right)

The fresh, cleansing, savoury and botanical-heavy flavour profile of aquavit suits current cocktail trends to a tee, as does the spirit’s focus on locality, provenance, history and (dare I say it?) craft. Speaking to my colleague Annie Hayes last month, Jesse Vida, of BlackTail Bar in New York, called aquavit a “cool, modifier spirit”. He said: “In New York it’s on almost every cocktail menu in every cocktail bar, and going on how trends tend to start there, I’m sure we’ll see it everywhere – especially around the US. I’m sure it’s already probably going around a bit here in London as well.”

Earlier this week, I popped into London’s Swift bar to sample a limited edition Linie Aquavit created by the venue’s co-founder Mia Johansson and Monica Berg, of Oslo’s Himkok fame, to celebrate International Women’s Day. The duo travelled to the distillery earlier this year to create the spirit, a blend of five-year-old Linie finished in madeira casks, mixed with younger aquavit, fennel, caraway and star anise, and an aquavit with orange blossom and white grapefruit. All proceeds from the Ladies Linie Aquavit will be donated to the Breast Cancer Fund.

Meanwhile, Marcin Miller’s new Norwegian distillery, Oslo Håndverksdestilleri (OHD), completed its core product range with a beautifully designed cask-aged aquavit. The distillery said it hoped to “bring authenticity back to the akevitt category,” which it claimed had been lost due to decades of state monopolies on alcohol production in the country.

It even seems possible that an aquavit serve could inhabit the same space on winter cocktail menus that is occupied by Aperol Spritz in the summer months. However, the spirit’s lightness and role as a palate cleanser mean it could become a cocktail staple all year round. Skål to that!

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