Aquavit Week 2015: Two cities celebrate this Nordic spirit

Photo: Lexi / Old Ballard Liquor Co. The Negroouni, a Teachers Lounge creation made with Heldig’s Own Aquavit, Gran Classico, Punt e Mes, and Peychaud’s Bitters.

Photo: Lexi / Old Ballard Liquor Co.
The Negroouni, a Teachers Lounge creation made with Heldig’s Own Aquavit, Gran Classico, Punt e Mes, and Peychaud’s Bitters.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

Shouts of “skål” could be heard throughout the cities of Portland and Seattle during Aquavit Week, a week-long celebration of the Scandinavian spirit lasting from Dec. 6 to 12.

Portland bartender, writer, and beverage consultant Jacob Grier founded the event in 2012 as a way to introduce more people to aquavit. This year’s festivities marked the fourth annual Aquavit Week and the first year it has made its way to Seattle, with the help of Lexi of Old Ballard Liquor Co.

“I’ve been intrigued by aquavit since I started tending bar in Portland, and as a few small American distilleries started producing it I saw it as an up-and-coming, underappreciated spirit that more people should be drinking. The first event brought all the aquavit I could find in Oregon into one bar, with each one featured in a different cocktail to highlight its flavor,” said Grier.

As the variety of aquavit available in the U.S. has grown, so has the celebration; from an event at a single bar in 2012, Aquavit Week has expanded to boast a long list of participating bars, restaurants, and more.

Photo: Gloria Chenoweth / Nordic Heritage Museum Sune Sandling takes a turn bartending at Seattle’s opening of the Skål! exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum.

Photo: Gloria Chenoweth / Nordic Heritage Museum
Sune Sandling takes a turn bartending at Seattle’s opening of the Skål! exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum.

This year, Portland kicked off Aquavit Week with an opening party at the Swedish restaurant Broder Nord. The event featured more than 10 varieties of aquavit and special guest Christer Olsen from Arcus, distributor for Linie and Aalborg.

“For the first few years most of our involvement came from the cocktail community, but this year we are excited to team up with Broder and Nordia House to reach out to the local Scandinavian community as well,” said Grier of the partnership.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s celebration began with an evening at the Teachers Lounge, a bar owned by “Seattle’s original aquavit experts” Perryn and Desiree Wright, the distillers of Heldig’s Own aquavit. They previously owned the Copper Gate, a Scandinavian Aquavit bar, and are credited with introducing an entire generation of Seattleites to the spirit. The Teachers Lounge served three varieties of aquavit—Old Ballard Liquor Co. Taffel #3, Lysholm Linie, and Heldig’s Own Housemade—along with corresponding cocktails and a few Scandinavian snacks.

In Seattle, the week coincided perfectly with the Nordic Heritage Museum’s Dec. 10 opening of the exhibit, “Skål! Scandinavian Spirits,” curated by the Museum of Danish America. The opening party included an introductory toast led by Tova Brandt, Albert Ravenholt Curator of Danish-American Culture, who also shared a song of unknown author from the Spiritmuseum in Stockholm, to the tune of “Popeye the sailor man”:

You can have another yet.
They’re nicer the more you get!
But if you have twenty,
you’ll wake with plenty
of headache and much regret.

Photo: Gloria Chenoweth / Nordic Heritage Museum Tova Brandt, Skål! exhibit curator, chats with visitors about an interactive activity identifying common aquavit ingredients by their smell.

Photo: Gloria Chenoweth / Nordic Heritage Museum
Tova Brandt, Skål! exhibit curator, chats with visitors about an interactive activity identifying common aquavit ingredients by their smell.

Museum visitors enjoyed a buffet table, oyster shooters, aquavit cocktails, and a presentation by Olsen of Arcus about Linie and Aalborg aquavits—including a tasting.

Many other locations took a part in Aquavit Week by featuring aquavit in cocktails (and even through food!) throughout the entire week. In Portland, one could sip on an aquavit cocktail at Bit House Saloon, Multnomah Whiskey Library and the Green Room, The Rookery Bar at Raven and Rose, and The Hop and Vine, among many others. In addition to cocktails, Seattle embraced aquavit’s contribution to the culinary scene, serving aquavit ice cream at Full Tilt, caraway smoked and aquavit braised short rib at Bravehorse Tavern, and yellowtail cured in Old Ballard aquavit lees at the Carlile Room.

What makes aquavit such a great ingredient for cocktails? “It’s a very versatile spirit, and it’s one that gives distillers a broad palette of flavors to work with by emphasizing different botanicals. There are aquavits putting the focus on caraway, dill, cumin, citrus, anise, Christmas spices, etc. Plus some are unaged, others spend time on wood. So there’s a lot to choose from when creating a cocktail,” answered Grier.

Norwegian Blonde

Photo courtesy of Old Ballard Liquor Co. Being lake-adjacent is not required to make this cocktail, only highly recommended.

Photo courtesy of Old Ballard Liquor Co.
Being lake-adjacent is not required to make this cocktail, only highly recommended.

Cocktail recipe courtesy of Old Ballard Liquor Co.

Deceptively simple to make—with a stylish herbal twist.

• 2 oz. Riktig Aquavit
• Juice of 1/2 lemon + simple syrup to taste—to equal 4 oz
• 4 large sprigs of fresh dill, chopped roughly

Shake it over ice. Shake it hard, like you mean it.

Shake it like a Viking!

Pour into a chilled martini glass and enjoy lakeside on a sunny afternoon.

Variations
Nordic Muse: Sub the dill for 2 oz tarragon and 2 oz rosemary.

Norwegian Bikini: Sub the dill for fresh mint.

Norwegian on Vacation: Sub the dill for fresh sweet basil.

Nordic Provincial: Sub the dill for fresh sage.

Through these innovative cocktails, Aquavit Week is able to highlight the traditional Scandinavian spirit and share its influence on modern drinking culture. Skål!

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 18, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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