We have in our bar a bottle of Akvavit, a strange, superb Scandinavian liquor that tastes, of all things, like caraway seed. It’s fantastic and complex, but strongly reminiscent of rye bread – it’s not the easiest flavor to blend into a cocktail. So, our bottle has been sitting there for a while, unused and unloved. Until now! A recent web search revealed this fantastic winter drink by an awesome Portland bartender, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, that does justice to this odd spirit and has quickly entered my rotation.
Read below for the full recipe!
1 oz Akvavit
1 oz Apple Brandy or Calvados
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
Combine all the ingredients, stir well with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel and enjoy.
Scandinavians have been drinking Akvavit since at least the 16th Century as a tonic for all sorts of ailments, as its name – from the Latin aqua vītae or “water of live” – suggests. Traditionally, Akvavit is consumed unadorned, paired with food or in a Christmas toast. There aren’t many cocktail recipes that incorporate Akvavit, which is why I was so delighted to find Mr. Morgenthaler’s recipe.
Here’s what you’ll get: an enormously complex, bold, well-balanced (but boozy) drink. I was honestly surprised at how good this drink was when I first tried it. The Akvavit’s caraway seed flavor is a major component but doesn’t dominate the drink; it’s a little sweet and a little spicy and a lot herbal. It brings foremost to mind the warmth of a roaring fire on a frigid northern night.
Akvavit is the Scandanavian cousin of English dry gin. Both start as a neutral spirit that is then distilled again with botanicals to impart flavor: juniper is the most prominent for gin, and caraway dominates Akvavit. But just as gin is more than just juniper, Akvavit also carries such flavors as dill, fennel, coriander, clove, anise, and cardamom.
I don’t expect most people to have at home a bottle of Akvavit or Chartreuse (an amazingly complex liqueur made by French monks from a secret combination of herbs, spices, and flowers). But here’s what I strongly suggest: that you pick up a bottle of one or both and give them a try. Americans have been conditioned by hundreds of varieties of flavored vodkas to expect spirits to taste exactly like a thing, whether that thing is vanilla or raspberry or pears or bubble gum or espresso. Instead, Akvavit and Chartreuse are big, bold, complex Old World Flavors that are as impossible to pin down as they are memorable. If you haven’t already, branch out and try something new. You might find yourself a convert.
Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper