Spirit of the season

Photo: House Spirits Distillery

Photo: House Spirits Distillery

Say skål to Krogstad Aquavit!

By Christy Olsen Field

Norwegian American Weekly

Served ice-cold in tiny glasses, aquavit (known as akevitt in Norwegian) makes its way on many Christmas tables and Scandinavian smorgasbords. Meaning “water of life,” aquavit has been produced in Scandinavia since the 15th century. Today, bartenders across the country are using craft spirits to create cocktails, and aquavit is an up-and-coming liquor for its unique flavors and versatility.

Though the styles vary throughout Scandinavia, aquavit is basically a grain-derived vodka flavored with spices and herbs such as caraway, fennel, dill, coriander, and anise. The most well-known imported aquavits are Aalborg Jubilæums Akvavit from Denmark, a golden spirit with notable dill and coriander notes; and Linie from Norway, which has a more pronounced caraway flavor. Krogstad Aquavit, from House Spirits distillery in Portland, Ore., is a newcomer in the aquavit market with an enthusiastic reception.

Christian Krogstad, founder of Krogstad Aquavit, is well-established in the industry: He started out 20 years ago in brewing beer, managed a winery, and started distilling seven years ago with House Spirits distillery. It was here that Krogstad Aquavit came to be.

“It’s always been part of my life,” said Krogstad, whose grandparents emigrated from Østfold, Norway to the U.S. “And nothing goes quite so well with pickled herring.”

Krogstad grew up with the traditional foods and beverages of Norway, and he noted how the aquavit made the delicate flavors of Nordic cuisine sing in harmony.

“When I had aquavit, the flavors of the food made sense together,” said Krogstad. “We have introduced a lot of people to Scandinavian delicacies such as smoked cod roe and pickled herring. When paired with aquavit, it plays off well with the other flavors. The food and the aquavit improve each other.”

When asked about what sets Krogstad Aquavit apart from their Scandinavian counterparts, he replied,  “Ours is a little more robust – and a little smoother – with more body and flavor. We use a little star anise and caraway for a licorice nose.”

Krogstad Aquavit is un-aged, and consequently lighter than many aquavits (such as Linie). In the spring, House Spirits released a limited edition of Gammal Krogstad, which was aged for 10 months in rum and whiskey barrels, turning it into a golden hue.

“We had no aspirations for it, no expectations,” he said. “We just wanted to make it. But it’s really catching on now in some really great bars and restaurants in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and more.”

Today, the aquavit is House Spirit’s fastest growing product.

Krogstad likes to sip his aquavit with a plate of good Norwegian food, but he points out the spirit’s versatility in cocktails. It can be substituted for vodka or gin in different cocktails. Its awfully good in a simple Bloody Mary!

Currently, Krogstad Aquavit is available in California, Georgia, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington. By the end of next year, Krogstad Aquavit hopes to be in every U.S. state and Scandinavia. House Spirits cannot ship their products to individuals, but their website lists online retailers who will ship to just about any state in the U.S. Retail price: $25. For more information, visit www.housespirits.com.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 9, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American

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