An Old Fashioned cocktail, with a twist

Akevitt meets rye in this nostalgic, Nordic-inspired take on the original cocktail

Photo: Emily Vikre Akevitt, rye, and a touch of spice make for the ideal autumn cocktail.

Photo: Emily Vikre
Akevitt, rye, and a touch of spice make for the ideal autumn cocktail.

Emily Vikre
Duluth, Minn.

The feeling in the air is special at this time of year. It feels particularly empty and expansive, more, well, airy than summer air. There’s still gentle warmth from the sun but the cold nips playfully at your heels the moment you’re in the shade. Here in northern Minnesota the expanses of maple, oak, birch, and aspen put on a stunning show of colors completely worthy of the parades of leaf peepers that come to visit (sorry Vermont and New Hampshire, you guys don’t by any means have the corner on the autumn leaf market) and the sky seems to grow more electric blue every day until it all flames out in a blaze of glory come gray and frigid November.

I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on why, but everyone I know (myself included) starts to feel more than usually nostalgic in autumn. Perhaps it’s watching kids go back to school that brings back so many memories. Maybe it’s just the awareness that the freshness and brilliance of fall inevitably fades into the darkness (though also peacefulness) of winter. Fall is acutely ephemeral.

I relish taking out my sweaters, flannels, and wooly socks. As much as that, I get excited about trading out the fruity, fizzy drinks of summer for moodier, boozier cocktails. Fitting with this fall mood, it’s hard to get more nostalgic than an Old Fashioned because as far as cocktail historians can make out, the Old Fashioned is, in fact, the original cocktail. An Old Fashioned is just three ingredients, spirits, sugar, and bitters, plus ice. From this open template you can build all sorts of variations, and an akevitt Old Fashioned is one of my favorites. Even better, I think, is an Old Fashioned that splits its base between akevitt and rye whiskey. Visit any Jewish deli, or have a piece of Swedish lympa, and you’ll know I’m not the only one who has noticed the affinity that caraway has for rye (or maybe it’s vice versa). The two combine to give the cocktail a rich, almost chewy flavor. Instead of sugar, I like to stay with the northern-inspired flavor palette and use a spoonful of maple syrup (get even more wild and northern with a spoonful of birch syrup!). A dash of orange bitters and Angostura bitters harmonize all the flavors. They also give the cocktail extra spice and aroma that are as autumnal as mulled cider, but will pull your tastebuds in a Christmas direction, making this Old Fashioned perfect for sipping all winter long.

Photo: Emily Vikre

Photo: Emily Vikre

Akevitt and Rye Old Fashioned
1 1/2 oz akevitt (in this cocktail I particularly like akevitt that has a little richness from being aged)
1 oz rye whiskey
1 tsp. maple syrup
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice until chilled (about 20 seconds), then strain into a low glass with a large ice cube in it. If desired, garnish with an orange twist.

Emily Vikre is a Norwegian-American dual citizen who grew up in Northern Minnesota but spent all her summers at her family’s hytte in Southern Norway. After receiving a PhD in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition, Emily and her husband Joel decided to change the course of their lives and moved back to Duluth, Minn., to start Vikre Distillery ( where they make fine handcrafted spirits inspired by the nature and culture of Northern Minnesota. Emily is also an enthusiastic cook, recipe developer, and food writer and has contributed to such publications as Lucky Peach, Food52, Cake & Whiskey Magazine, and Minnesota Public Radio.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.