Aquavit, sometimes spelled Akvavit or Akevitt, depending on the nation of origin, is a Scandinavian liquor. The alcohol content of the extremely strong distilled spirits can range between 42-45%, and the beverage is usually served with appetizers, or as part of a heavy holiday meal. Like many regional liquors, Aquavit has loyal fans in the countries which make it, but other people around the world sometimes do not find the flavor to their liking. The primary flavor is, of course, the intense distilled alcohol, but for people who are not fans of the caraway seeds traditionally blended in, the finish can be unpleasant.
The earliest recorded reference to Aquavit was in Norway in 1531. The name comes from the Latin aqua, meaning water, and vitae, or life. Many national beverages are known by some variation of this title, which can lead to some confusion. The liquor is made from a potato or grain mash, fermented traditionally with caraway seeds. Aquavit made with fennel, dill, anise, or coriander is also available, but caraway seeds are usually included for a hint of the classic flavor.
Depending on the nation of origin, Aquavit is sold raw and unaged, or it is sold in an aged form. Norway especially seems to prefer aged Aquavit, and vintages of over 12 years old are available for sale in that nation. The color varies from clear, indicating that the alcohol is fresh or was aged in old oak casks, to dark brown, suggesting a long aging in young oak. Aging in oak certainly alters the flavor of Aquavit, making it taste slightly less raw and intense.
Traditionally, Aquavit is served cold. Drinkers can take shots of the distilled alcohol, or they can savor a larger glass. It is often served with appetizers, particularly fish, and some Scandinavians joke that the Aquavit helps the fish swim to the stomach. It is also served with heavy meals, under the belief that the fiery liquor will assist with digestion.
Usually served plain, Aquavit can also be used in mixed drinks. A variety of mixers can be used with Aquavit, including grenadine, lemon, bitters, juice, and sodas. Aquavit is also said to complement the flavor of high quality beer, and the beverages are sometimes mixed or drunk in tandem. Purists believe that the flavor of the Aquavit will be obscured by the heavier beer, while other consumers are not as concerned about this, or view it as a benefit.