Seattle’s skål-worthy akevitt
With a modern twist on an age-old drink, Old Ballard Liquor Co. is bringing Scandinavian drinking culture back, one bottle of akevitt at a time
Norwegian American Weekly
Why did Old Ballard Liquor Co. choose to distill akevitt, a spirit unknown to many non-Scandinavians? Well, as an 18-year-old in Sweden, owner Lexi had acquired a taste for akevitt. But after returning to the U.S., her quest for authentic akevitt deemed fruitless—so she decided to make her own!
After years of planning, Lexi opened the Old Ballard Liquor Co. in June 2013. Akevitt is the distillery’s primary product, which sets Old Ballard apart from other American akevitt producers.
Lexi describes the akevitt distilling process as “like gin, but with different spices.” The spices vary according to the variety of akevitt, but Old Ballard tends to steer clear of fennel and anise. Whichever spices are chosen are then added to unflavored vodka and the mixture is redistilled. After this second distillation, more spices are often added for color and additional flavor.
The spirit is so unique because it offers a diversity of flavors that can be completely different from bottle to bottle, according to Lexi. Of course this can also be a challenge, especially as a small-batch craft distillery; bottles can vary according to the freshness of the herbs or even the time of the year.
Old Ballard offers three core akevitt products: the Swedish Älskar Aquavit, the Danish Midsommar Aquavit, and the Norwegian Riktig Aquavit. According to Lexi, Swedish akevitt is generally sweet and Danish is dry, while Norwegian akevitt is known for its richness. Many Scandinavians will enjoy all three but declare the akevitt of their homeland to be the “real” akevitt, Lexi has observed.
Considering the diversity of the flavors among the varieties, the ideal food pairings also vary. Lexi recommends oysters with Älskar Aquavit, crayfish or salmon with Midsommar Aquavit, and pinnekjøtt (or any rich, fatty meats) with Riktig.
In addition to the three mainstays and her popular Cherry Bounce liqueur, Old Ballard also offers a selection of seasonal products to capture the seasonal drinking customs of Scandinavia. The distillery’s website is the best place to find a complete listing of the current products, which can be purchased at the distillery’s location in Ballard, Total Wines throughout the state, Whole Foods in Seattle, as well as a selection of independent liquor stores in Washington.
The distillery’s biggest challenge is standing up to engrained brand loyalties and introducing Old Ballard to new customers. Many with strong brand loyalties to imported akevitt are hesitant to try Old Ballard products, says Lexi. But she’s confident that if she can get them to try it, they will like it!
Old Ballard honors the local Scandinavian community by educating customers and local craft bartenders on not only the drink itself but also the Scandinavian drinking culture as a whole. For customers looking to immerse themselves in the culture, the distillery holds a two-hour class covering the history, production, technique, styles, and regions of akevitt—plus some cocktails and drinking songs! Lexi also donates her products to Scandinavian charities and groups as much as possible and enjoys involving members of the local Scandinavian community in the distillery’s events.
To further honor Ballard’s roots, the distillery offers a 10 percent discount to Scandinavian language speakers and Ballard maritime workers. But a mere “uff da” won’t suffice! For the discount, customers must show off their Scandinavian language skills in a conversation with Lexi.
But most importantly, selling akevitt allows Lexi to share the compelling history of the spirit and the drinking customs with Scandinavians and non-Scandinavians alike.
With a tattoo-style design on the label and innovative akevitt cocktails, Lexi is channeling a more modern representation of Scandinavian culture in hopes of attracting a new generation of akevitt customers. Many are shocked that Lexi would serve akevitt in cocktails, but she believes it is the key to moving forward and introducing new generations to akevitt.
One of Lexi’s favorite akevitt cocktails is the Nordic Muse, a bright drink with lemon and herbal notes that is excellent served alongside lamb.
The Nordic Muse is made with the Norwegian-style Riktig Aquavit, which has the kick needed to stand up to the flavors of a traditional, rich Norwegian winter meal. It is made with alder wood—similar to the birch used by Norwegians—contributing historical aspects and a sense of place.
The Nordic Muse
2 oz Riktig Caraway Aquavit
4 oz juice of lemon & simple syrup to taste
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary and tarragon, chopped roughly
Shake vigorously over ice for at least 10 seconds. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh herb or lemon peel. Skål!
To learn more about Old Ballard Liquor Co., visit www.oldballardliquorco.com or register for the Aquavit Tasting Craft School at the Nordic Heritage Museum on June 7 or 14.