Traditional recipes

How Whiskey, Aquavit Are Made

How Whiskey, Aquavit Are Made

We toured House Spirits Distillery to show you how exactly whiskeys, vodka, and aquavit come about

Take a look around House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Ore.

It’s safe to say that pounding shots and sipping whiskey gingers at your local pub isn’t necessarily the best way to enjoy your liquor, especially the good stuff. Plenty of time, money, and fancy equipment are all necessary to create a good bottle of booze, and let’s admit it, on some nights that goes unappreciated.

How ​Whiskey, Aquavit Are Made (Slideshow)

We recently took a tour of Portland, Ore.’s House Spirits Distillery, makers of Aviation American Gin and one of the few U.S. producers of Scandinavian favorite aquavit, to get a firsthand look at how they make their gin, Westward Oregon Whiskey, Krogstad Festlig Aquavit, and Volstead Vodka. And while their entire production facility is no larger than a suburban house, you’ll find their Aviation Gin nationwide and in some of the best gin bars around (and their whiskey will be joining the national market soon).

Take a look through our slideshow to check out the production facilities of House Spirits Distillery, as they walk us through the steps of steeping gin, distilling whiskey, and turning sharp, grating ethanol into smooth, potable vodka. You’ll be needing, and appreciating, a good drink after this.

How to Make Aquavit

Aquavit ingredients. Ingalls Photography

In addition to using caraway and dill—the most traditional flavors for aquavit—in Sweden, home cooks make the spirit with an infinite variety of spices, herbs, and other flavorful botanicals. To make your own at home, combine aromatics with a neutral spirit such as vodka in a 1:1 ratio. Let the mixture steep in a lidded glass jar in the refrigerator for two to four days, depending on your preferred degree of flavor. Then strain and discard the aromatics if you like. See below for some ideas for infusions.

1. Vibrant red rhubarb lends a beautiful ruby glow to the aquavit, while the alcohol softens and tempers the stalks’ signature tartness.

2. The dominant flavor in gin, juniper berries, the fruit of a member of the conifer family, give off a menthol spice with just a hint of sweetness.

3. Caraway seeds, another traditional flavor, give off a musky, yeasty rye-bread flavor.

4. Feathery fronds of dill bring a refreshing grassy note with a mild celery-like flavor.

5. With a fragrance reminiscent of roses, delicate, pale pink cherry blossoms impart a floral note with a touch of bitter almond.

6. Sprigs of lemon verbena, a flowering shrub with a lemony aroma, add a peppery citrus kick.

What does aquavit taste like?

Aquavit is actually made just like gin, but with caraway instead of juniper berries. So it's essentially just a heavily spiced vodka. The best word to sum up its taste is savoury, but the flavour can vary significantly depending on whether it is aged (more on that later) and whether it is served chilled or at room temperature.

Aquavit is strong, typically 40% ABV, and it must be at least 37.5% ABV to be called aquavit (under those EU rules again!).

While often compared to gin, the spirit has a more immediate flavour profile because of the simplicity of the caraway/dill, meaning it's a drink that you can easily detect when mixed with others.


The word aquavit derives from the Latin aqua vitae, "water of life." Compare the words whisky or whiskey, from Gaelic uisce beatha, which has the same meaning. Likewise, clear fruit brandy is called eau de vie (French for "water of life"). A story holding that the term really means "water from the vine" – from a conflation of the Latin vītae (genitive of vita) and the Italian term vite (meaning grapevine) – is no more than a picturesque piece of folk etymology. [ citation needed ]

Akvavit is an important part of Nordic drinking culture, where it is often drunk during festive gatherings, such as Christmas dinners and the Midsummer celebration, and as an aperitif. [3] In Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany aquavit is chilled and often drunk in a single gulp from a small shot glass. This is usually attributed to tradition. [4] It is not generally chilled in Norway, but enjoyed slowly. In Sweden commonly the aquavit is consumed immediately following a song, called a snapsvisa. The most well-known song is Helan Går. [5] In Finland and Sweden, aquavit consumed from a shot glass is also commonly associated with crayfish parties, which are traditionally held during late August. In Denmark aquavit is called snaps or akvavit, and is primarily consumed in December during Christmas lunches or around Easter during Easter lunches. It is consumed year round though, mainly for lunches of traditional Danish dishes where beer is also always on the table. Drinking it without food or at a bar will be considered a little strange. [ citation needed ] In Norway, where most aquavit is matured in oak casks, the drink is served at room temperature in tulip-shaped glasses or shot glasses. Aquavit arguably complements beer well, and its consumption is very often preceded by a swig of beer. [6]

Akvavit is distilled from either grain or potatoes. [7] After distillation, it is flavoured with herbs, spices, or fruit oil. Commonly seen flavours are caraway, cardamom, cumin, anise, fennel, and lemon or orange peel. [7] Dill and grains of paradise are also used. The Danish distillery Aalborg makes an akvavit distilled with amber.

The recipes and flavours differ between brands, but caraway is typically the dominant flavour. Akvavit usually has a yellowish hue, but this can vary from clear to light brown, depending on how long it has been aged in oak casks (Norway) or the amount of colorant used. Normally, a darker colour suggests a higher age or the use of young casks, though artificial caramel colouring is permitted. Clear akvavit is called taffel, meaning table aquavit. Taffel aquavit is typically aged in old casks that do not colour the finished spirit or it is not aged at all.

Dear lord, will your grace know that I send your grace some water with messenger Jon Teiste which is called Aqua vite and the same water helps for all his illness that a man can have internally.

The earliest known reference to "aquavit" is found in a 1531 letter from the Danish Lord of Bergenshus castle, Eske Bille to Olav Engelbrektsson, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Norway. The letter, dated April 13, accompanying a package, offers the archbishop "some water which is called Aqua Vite and is a help for all sort of illness which a man can have both internally and externally". [8]

While this claim for the medicinal properties of the drink may be rather inflated, aquavit is popularly believed to ease the digestion of rich foods. In Denmark, it is traditionally associated with Christmas and Easter lunches. In Norway, it is drunk at celebrations, particularly Christmas, Easter or May 17 (Norwegian Constitution Day). In Sweden, it is a staple of the traditional midsummer celebrations dinner, usually drunk while singing one of many drinking songs. It is usually drunk as snaps during meals, especially during the appetizer course – along with pickled herring, crayfish, lutefisk or smoked fish. In this regard, it is popularly quipped that aquavit helps the fish swim down to the stomach.

It is also a regular on the traditional Norwegian Christmas meals, including roasted rib of pork and rib of lamb (pinnekjøtt). The spices and the alcohol are said to help digest the meal, which is very rich in fat.

Among the most important brands are Løiten, Lysholm and Gilde from Norway, Aalborg from Denmark and O.P. Anderson from Sweden. While the Danish and Swedish variants are normally very light in colour, most of the Norwegian brands are matured in oak casks for at least one year, and for some brands even as long as 12 years, making them generally darker in colour. While members of all three nations can be found to claim that "their" style of aquavit is the best as a matter of national pride, Norwegian akevitt tend to have, if not the most distinctive character, then at least the most overpowering flavour and deepest colour due to the aging process. [ citation needed ]

Peculiar to the Norwegian tradition are Linje Aquavits (such as "Løiten Linje" and "Lysholm Linje"). Linje Aquavit is named after the tradition of sending oak barrels of aquavit with ships from Norway to Australia and back again, thereby passing the equator ("linje") twice before being bottled. The constant movement, high humidity and fluctuating temperature cause the spirit to extract more flavour and contributes to accelerated maturation.

Norwegian aquavit distillers Arcus has carried out a test where they tried to emulate the rocking of the casks aboard the "Linje" ships while the oak barrels were subjected to the weather elements as they would aboard a ship. The finished product was, according to Arcus, far from the taste that a proper linje aquavit should have. [ citation needed ]

Therefore, to this day boats loaded with "Line Aquavit" set sail from Norway to Australia and back again before they are tapped on bottle and sold as part of the Norwegian Christmas traditions.

Aquavit is seldom produced outside of the Nordic countries, although there are domestic imitations of it in some countries, especially in areas that have a large community of Nordic immigrants, such as the United States. An exception, however, is Northern Germany, and in particular the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, which was part of Denmark until the 19th century (see: History of Schleswig-Holstein) and still has a notable Danish minority. Among the most important German brands are Bommerlunder from Flensburg, Kieler Sprotte from Kiel and Malteserkreuz. The latter brand has been produced in Berlin since 1924 by a subsidiary of Sweden's Vin & Sprit AB (now Pernod Ricard), the producer of many Swedish akvavits, and can be considered a German imitation of the Nordic aquavits, since it is based on an original Danish recipe. Brands from Schleswig-Holstein, however, often have a long history, comparable to their Nordic counterparts. Bommerlunder, for instance, has been made since 1760. Aquavit is also an important part of the traditional cuisine of Schleswig-Holstein. German aquavit is virtually always distilled from fermented grain, and generally has an alcohol content of 38% by volume, marginally less than Scandinavian aquavits.

Psychopomp Microdistillery [9] in Bristol, England, started producing an aquavit (termed 'Aqvavit' due to EU regulations) in 2017. In Canada aquavit is produced by Crosscut Distillery Sudbury, Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, [10] Island Spirits Distillery, Long Table Distillery, [11] Spirit of York Distillery Co. in Toronto, Ontario, and Sheringham Distillery on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. [12] Small distilleries in the United States also produce aquavit, especially in parts of the country with high populations of people of Nordic heritage, such as the distilleries in Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, Illinois, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington. See List of Akvavit Producers in the United States for specifics. In Newfoundland, Canada The Newfoundland Distillery Co. produces aquavit from barley, honey and juniper-smoked peat from Newfoundland.


Meet Linie Aquavit, our Scandi sister from another mister. Also born in the early 19th century, every bottle of Linie is matured at sea, and she brings extra ocean vibes to this salty delight, laced with a hint of orange and fennel to take the edge off. Cruise along at a leisurely pace but don't forget to fill those glasses with ice to chill.

  • 40ml Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 15ml Linie Aquavit
  • A dash of Jameson Seaweed Bitters
  • 15ml Orange & Fennel Syrup
  • Combine 40ml Jameson Original, 15ml Linie Aquavit, a dash of Jameson Seaweed Bitters and 15ml orange and fennel syrup.
  • Stir & strain into a pre-chilled coupe.


  • 40ml Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 15ml Linie Aquavit
  • A dash of Jameson Seaweed Bitters
  • 15ml Orange & Fennel Syrup

How To Make

  • Combine 40ml Jameson Original, 15ml Linie Aquavit, a dash of Jameson Seaweed Bitters and 15ml orange and fennel syrup.
  • Stir & strain into a pre-chilled coupe.

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Single malt whiskey of the highest quality can be made from barley. But you can also mix different types of malt to make blended malt whiskey. For example, barley, rye, corn or wheat. General ratios of ingredients remain the same.

You can couch malt at home or purchase it in a specialized store. Where you get it is not all that important. What is important, though, is the quality of water. Spring or filtered water is perfect, but don’t use hyperfiltration and don’t boil it!

Note. Use a thermometer at all times. Measuring wort’s temperature by eye without thermal control will yield no results.

How to Make Aquavit, the Spirit Everyone in Denmark Drinks

Maybe you&rsquove dabbled in homebrewing beer or attempted homemade Irish Cream. But if you really want to impress people over the holidays, try making the spirit that&rsquos so simple to pull together, nearly every household in Denmark has their own recipe. It&rsquos time to make aquavit.

Before you quietly panic, hear us out. If you&rsquove never heard of aquavit or think it sounds really fancy, you&rsquore in for a pleasant surprise.

Aquavit is basically infused vodka. All you do is mix aromatics, spices or herbs into vodka and let it sit.

The vodka can infuse for anywhere between 24 hours to a year or two, depending on how seasoned you want your drink to be. Traditional spices include caraway and dill, but you can go nuts with your flavors. Seriously. Katherine Simonson, who was born and raised in Denmark and now lives in NYC, says her favorite kind of aquavit is made with walnuts.

&ldquoIt has the color of amber and is so good with rye bread,&rdquo she says of this Christmas tradition. &ldquoYou pick the walnuts when they are green, pour vodka and let it sit in a closed container. During the first month, it turns black, and you have to stir it from time to time. And then you put it in a dark cupboard and forget about it for two years.&rdquo The anticipation alone would be enough to make it taste good.

Cumin, cloves and anise are also popular spices to use, and you can always throw in a citrus rind, too. Some of the more unique varieties include wormwood, nettles and rose hip.

Coming in at about 40 percent alcohol, aquavit is strong, so it&rsquos a sip-and-savor drink. But the most important thing to remember? Rasmus Amdi Larsen of Copenhagen&rsquos Restaurant Palægade insists, &ldquoWhen drinking snaps, you always say skål.&rdquo So, skål!

The Many Ways to Drink Aquavit

At times called “aquavite”, “akvavit”, “aquavitae” or “snaps”, aquavit is a spirit of many monikers and even more abundant flavors. It comes to us from the Scandinavian countries of Europe—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—though an increasing number of American distilleries have begun producing the aromatic spirit.

Aquavit production begins with the distillation of a potato or grain mash into a veritably neutral spirit, similar to vodka. The addition of caraway and/or dill transforms this neutral base into aquavit, and from there, distillers may choose to contribute cumin, fennel, citrus or a myriad of other botanicals into their spirit. The dry, sometimes spicy, and invariably buxom flavor of aquavit distinguishes it from most other botanical spirits, such as gin or flavored vodkas. Regional specialties abound and stylistic differences are common between different countries of origin, as are legal obligations.

Sweden, the most prolific producer of aquavit, has two styles they are best-known for: the sweet, fruit-forward flavors of the South, which are reflective of its warm climate, and the spicy, often barrel-aged Northern varieties. Sweden has no legal restriction on the base material for their aquavit, though they must contain caraway. Conversely, Norwegian aquavit is required to be made from potatoes and aged in oak, and Danish aquavit is often flavored with either caraway or dill primarily.

Start your beverage with a hearty “Skål!” and finish it off with a song if you’re feeling festive

Perhaps the most interesting part of aquavit is the many ways in which it is enjoyed. Aquavit is above all else a social spirit meant to bring people together over a literal smorgasbord of food, often around the holidays. For a feast of that proportion, which customarily includes bread, cheese, butter, and cold fish dishes like herring and salmon, shots of aquavit are served chilled in tulip-shaped glassware as a stabilizing element of the meal. To offset those rich flavors, you need a sharp beverage, like O.P. Anderson, a traditional Swedish aquavit from the North. In Iceland, food and aquavit go such hand-in-hand that producer Brennivín recently released a Rúgbraud Edition, now also available in the states, which infuses the regional and highly aromatic rye bread delicacy right into the spirit, resulting in a rounded, bold and satisfying variation of what is typically a more delicate spirit.

Danish aquavit imbibers like to have a shot alongside their lunchtime meals, sometimes with a beer chaser. This is a good way for the uninitiated to become familiar with aquavit and benefits from a lighter variety, such as Malmö Akvavit agreeably flavored with citrus. For those interested in Norwegian aquavit, look for Urtekildens Aquavit, which is clean and flavored with dill, anise, and citrus.

Aquavit in the US

Rúgbraud at Stay Gold NYC, photo by Amanda Schuster

Knowledge of aquavit was brought to the United States by Scandinavian immigrants who arrived here in the years before the First World War, and the drink has been experiencing a remarkable resurgence both in popularity and domestic production in the last couple decades. West Baden Springs, Indiana is home to Spirits of French Lick, which blends ten different botanicals into their unaged aquavit.

Though aquavit is popping up in all corners of the country (such as Oregon with the popular House Spirits Krogstad Aquavit and California’s Geijer Spirits Aquavitae), production is concentrated in the Upper Midwest, especially cities like Minneapolis, which has a healthy appreciation for the Scandinavian spirit. Tattersall Distillery, a local favorite, produces oak-aged aquavit flavored with caraway that they feature in their on-site cocktails. Michigan’s Long Road Distilling also produces a popular barrel aged variation for their Old Aquavit. These formats have given aquavit a new life stateside. Bartenders are finding it an unexpectedly desirable addition to cocktails, introducing an element that few spirits are able to provide and that plays off other flavors.

Some bars and restaurants have even gone a step further—not only do they serve aquavit, but they also make it in-house. The Two-Michelin starred Aska , a Nordic-inspired restaurant in Williamsburg, infuses a base spirit with foraged ingredients that celebrate New York, including black walnut, douglas fir, honey, lingonberry, fennel blossom, white truffle, and langoustine, to make their in-house variations. Aquavit is rarely served mixed at Aska instead, expect it presented to you straight up in a frosted glass. Hunt + Alpine in Portland Maine also makes its own aquavit, and the recipe can be found in the excellent book Northern Hospitality by co-owners Briana and Andrew Volk.

The opportunities and ways in which the adventurous drinker can enjoy this Scandinavian spirit only seem to grow over time, as evidenced in another worthy read, Spirit of the North, by Selma Slabiak. Contrary to what was once popular opinion, this is a spirit category that has a lot of variation and can appeal to a wide audience, so don’t hesitate to go out and buy a bottle of your very own.

Aquavit Cocktails

Aquavit Hot Cider. | Photo by Evan Sung. Bar Clacson's Espresso Martini. | Photo by Olivia Frescura. Blod & Skar. | Photo by Aubrie Legault. Clockwork Orange. | Photo by Stephen Woodburn. Early Start. | Photo by Max Kelly. Hideaway Honey. | Photo by Anne Watson. Scandinavian Daiquiri. | Photo by Lara Ferroni. St. Knut's Day. | Photo by Lara Ferroni. Summer in Oulu. | Photo by Peter Frank Edwards. The Witches. | Photo by Scott Suchman.

A traditional spirit of Scandinavia, aquavit is gaining more fans stateside as new labels export to the U.S. and American craft distillers make their own interpretations of the spirit. Jacob Grier, Portland, Oregon-based bartender and founder of Aquavit Week, says it&rsquos a surprisingly versatile spirit for mixing in cocktails, too. &ldquoStirred drinks, shaken drinks, punches, flips, toddies, beers and shots&mdashthere&rsquos really nothing aquavit can&rsquot do. It also plays well in split-base cocktails,&rdquo says Grier. &ldquoI&rsquove come across a lot of very tasty drinks in the U.S. that use aquavit as a complement to more familiar spirits like whiskey, gin, tequila, or mezcal.&rdquo

Pick up a copy of the Sept/Oct 2019 issue for an in-depth look at modern-day aquavit and head to our primer to learn more about the spirit, then kickstart your mixing adventures with these creative aquavit cocktails.

Aquavit Hot Cider
A wintry cider inspired by Scandinavian flavors.

Bar Clacson&rsquos Espresso Martini
A minty-fresh take on the classic.

Blod & Skar
And herbaceous take on the Blood & Sand.

Clockwork Orange
A dessert cocktail that merges the flavors of coffee, orange and aquavit.

Early Start
Sorrel takes root in this herbaceous sour.

Hideaway Honey
The spice bouquet of aged aquavit mingles perfectly with the herbaceous qualities of yellow Chartreuse.

Scandinavian Daiquiri
The Daiquiri gets a Nordic twist.

St. Knut&rsquos Day
A sparkling cocktail perfect for the holidays.

Summer in Oulu
Aquavit and Fernet spice up cold-brew coffee in this warming cocktail.

The Witches
A fragrant and herbaceous blend of aquavit, Chartreuse and sherry.

The regional differences in the production of aquavit result in a range of flavor profiles. Though each is dominated by caraway or dill, the background often focuses on a secondary spice and can vary widely.

  • Danish aquavit is usually grain-based and has a stronger dill and coriander flavor.
  • Swedish aquavit is grain-based and often has a pronounced anise and fennel flavor.
  • Norwegian aquavit is made from potatoes and leans toward a cumin and citrus peel profile. Aging in sherry casks not only mellows the spirit but also imparts a woody, vanilla undertone.
  • Taffel is "table" aquavit that is aged in casks, but results in clear liquor.
  • American and Canadian aquavit can range widely in flavor profiles, with some distilleries aging their aquavit in barrels.

Why Aquavit Belongs in Your Winter Cocktails

Traditionally a Scandinavian spirit, aquavit is clear and heavily spiced, with caraway as the dominant flavor.

We love a good, stiff bourbon or brandy cocktail during the winter. But when you&aposve had your fill of toddies and Manhattans, why not branch out a bit? This January, we’ve been loving aquavit in cocktails—specifically, a New Hampshire-made version dubbed Skiklubben Aquavit.

Traditionally a Scandinavian spirit, aquavit is clear and heavily spiced, with caraway as the dominant flavor. Generally served as an ice-cold shot, it’s stiff and bracing and, to put it nicely, an acquired taste. But Skiklubben, made by Tamworth Distilling since 2015 and now available nationally, is its own creature. Made from a whiskey base, it has a bit more heft and body than a traditional aquavit. And while the caraway is prominent, other elements including winter vegetables and spices (clove, anise, and cardamom) give it a balance and complexity that some aquavits lack. As a result, it’s surprisingly versatile in cocktails. Here are three we’re loving this winter.

Watch the video: ΙnsideFood - Πώς παράγεται η μπίρα; S05E01 (December 2021).