Norwegian 101: Aquavit (Akevitt)

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
The selection of aquavit at Grosch’s local Vinmonopolet (state-run liquor store). Here in the U.S. you may have to look a bit harder for the stuff, but it’s out there!

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

The Christmas holidays (julesesongen) are quickly approaching (raskt nærmer seg), which means (som betyr) here in Norway (her i Norge) households (husholdninger) are stocking up (hamstrer opp) on aquavit. It is a traditional partner (tradisjonell partner) to Christmas dinner (julemiddag), and appears with Cognac and Baileys at gatherings throughout the season (i løpet av sesong) for the non-drivers (de som ikke kjører) of the bunch. So what IS (hva ER) aquavit?

There are many different varieties (mange forskjellige varianter), each with its own distinctive flavor (sin egen karakteristiske smak), but the basics (grunnleggende) are the same (er det samme). Aquavit is a strong distilled spirit (en sterk destillert sprit) or vodka, at least 35.5% alcohol (alkohol), clear (klar) or a pale yellow (blek gul) made from grain (korn) (Swedish and Danish aquavit) or potato (potet) (Norwegian). Flavored (smaksatt) with things like cardamom (kardemomme), caraway (karve), or fennel (fennikel), some are stronger (sterkere), some are more mild, but everyone has a favorite (alle har en favoritt).

As early as (så tidlig som) the 1500s, this drink was used as a “medicine” (medisin) and was most often made by clergy (presteskapet), called “aqua vitae,” meaning the water of life (livets vann). Today, it is a tradition (en tradisjon); some might even say a mark of being a true Scandinavian (et preg av å være en ekte skandinavisk person).

So if you want (så hvis du ønsker) to stock up (å hamstre) to toast in the New Year Norwegian style (for å skåle nyåret i en norsk stil), here is a quick primer (en rask intro). The first three are Norwegian.

• Linie aquavit ( is famous (berømt) because each drop (hver dråpe) travels (reiser) across the equator (over ekvator) twice (to ganger) on a 19-week voyage (19-ukers reise). The aquavit (60% alcohol content) is stored (er lagret) in oak barrels (i eikefat) on deck (på dekk) where it is exposed (utsatt) to all types of weather (for all slags vær). Each bottle (hver flaske) lists the route (ruten) it has taken (det har tatt) as well as departure and arrival dates (avgang og ankomst datoer). Lin­ie’s website has videos and a great deal more information (mye mer informasjon).

• Gammel Opland aquavit is aged for two years in oak barrels before it’s bottled (er på flaske), and it some say it adds a hint of vanilla (det gir et hint av vanilje) to the traditional taste (tradisjonell smak).

• Gilde aquavit is our family favorite (familien vår sin favoritt), and we always purchase (kjøper) the year’s vintage.

Both Gammel Opland and Gilde are now produced (produsert) by Arcus (, and their website has a great deal of history about Norway’s national drink (Norges nasjonaldrikk).

This summer, our friends from Minnesota (våre venner fra Minnesota) brought us some aquavit from Duluth called Øvrevann (, and Aquavit Week ( clued me in (informerte meg) to producers across the United States (over hele USA). Believe it or not (tro det eller ikke), you can find (kan du finne) aquavit in:

• Texas (,

• Oregon (, and

• Wisconsin (

So wherever you find yourself (så uansett hvor du befinner deg) in the world (i verden) this jul, find a bottle of aquavit (finn en flaske akevitt) to toast your Norwegian heritage (din norsk kulturarv). Cheers! (Skål!)

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 16, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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