Snapas: tapas for aquavit

Aquavit, Cocktails, and Nordic Snaps Culture by Lexi of the Old Ballard Liquor Co.

Photo courtesy of Old Ballard   Presentation is an important part of the snapas experience.

Photo courtesy of Old Ballard
Presentation is an important part of the snapas experience.

As Scandinavian countries have prospered and families have found themselves with an abundance of disposable income like never before, the influence of warm-climate foods are finding their way back from vacations and into Nordic daily cuisine. Sunny European destinations like Spain, Portugal, Majorca, and the Canary Islands are popular winter escapes for vitamin B starved Scandinavians, and the experience of the food culture and flavors can clearly be seen in contemporary Norwegian cuisine. Classic Spanish dishes like bacalao are now so common in Norway that Lysholm made a special bacalao pairing aquavit.

Of all the foreign-influenced dishes, none is a better snapshot of Scandinavian prosperity and adaptation than “snapas.” An amalgamation of the words “snaps” (aquavit) and “tapas” (Spanish drinking snacks), snapas takes the idea of drinking food and elevates it to an art that is both tasty and beautiful as only Nordic philosophy can.

Let’s start with the idea that aquavit has been a savory food-pairing liquor for many decades. In Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, aquavit usually shows up at festive tables, to be taken with food, and flavors and styles are chosen carefully to pair up with the dishes and seasons that are represented. Lighter, fruity snaps are paired with spring and summer meals, while heavy, robust flavors marry well with the richness of winter foods. It’s no wonder that when exposed to the Spanish practice of serving tapas with wine at bars, the idea of doing the same with aquavit was obvious.

Scandinavian snapas tend to be complicated, elegant bites served on top of a fractional shot of aquavit. The idea is to eat the bite and shoot the liquor simultaneously, so that the eater experiences the combination of flavors simultaneously. The snapas bites are typically carefully presented as miniature works of art and intended to be a curated sensory experience (another hallmark of contemporary Scandinavian culture) instead of an exercise in drinking to excess.

The concept of snapas is fairly new—even to Scandinavians—and it’s rare to find these bites in restaurants yet. It’s more common to see this presentation on cruise ships and fancy catered buffets, cooking shows, or even food blogs and columns in newspapers. As a vehicle for enjoying aquavit, the experience of snapas is unparalleled and is catching on quickly.

To make your own snapas at home, there are a number of aquavits that have food pairing recommendations on the labels or websites. Starting from the best pairing for that particular aquavit, build your bite in a stack, using condiments and garnishes carefully. On page 19 is a recipe for an elegant and easy bite that pairs well with heavy, wood-aged, caraway-forward Norwegian aquavits.

Juniper Game Sausage with Lingonberry Crème Fraîche

½ cup chopped game meat (duck, venison, or even lamb)
¼ cup rendered duck fat
1 tsp. finely chopped or ground juniper berries
1 tsp. finely chopped or ground coriander
2 tsps. ground white pepper
4 tsps. sea salt

½ cup crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)
3 tbsps. raw, unsugared lingonberries (or substitute lingonberry jam)
Finn Crisp or Wasa bread
snaps glasses

Chop or process all sausage ingredients to a fine crumble or paste. Roll the sausages into tiny balls and pan fry in oil until golden.

Fill a snaps glass with ¼ to ½ oz. shot of aquavit

On top of a piece of cracker, put a dollop of crème fraîche and sprinkle a few raw, unsugared lingonberries on top. (If using jam, gently stir the jam and crème fraîche together—swirls look better than solid pink.)

Place the sausage ball onto the cream, and place the cracker on top of the glass. Serve quickly, before the crackers get soggy.


Lexi is the owner and founder of the Old Ballard Liquor Co. in Seattle, which produces more varieties of aquavit than any distillery in the U.S. After growing up with the Scandinavian-American farming culture of the Skagit Valley and a three-year residency in Sweden, she settled back into Seattle life where she now operates the Old Ballard distillery and a Nordic café and fine dining Scandinavian restaurant called Tumble Swede, and travels the U.S. teaching classes on contemporary Scandinavian food and drink.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 9, 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.