Next in our How To/DIY series, we take a look at how to make aquavit and how to use it in cocktails.
Aquavit (or akvavit) is a traditional Scandinavian spirit made with a neutral grain or potato spirit base flavoured with botanicals. It bears similarities to gin but unlike gin where juniper is the main botanical, aquavit has caraway seed as the primary flavouring, followed by dill. Other botanicals include coriander, fennel, cardamom and citrus peel.
The name aquavit is derived from the Latin aqua vitae, or water of life, and has been produced in Scandinavia for centuries. There are many combinations of herbs and spices that flavour the spirit but in essence, Aquavit has a savoury, herbaceous character and can be used in cocktails in lieu of gin and vodka.
Making aquavit is easy. Toast the botanicals then add them to a glass jar with a good seal and pour in the vodka. Leave to steep in a cool, dark spot for a minimum of 3 days, tasting along the way to check on the flavour. When ready, simply strain the liquid into a clean bottle and discard the solids. The colour of the aquavit ranges from light yellow to pale brown depending on the choice of ingredients and how long you leave them in to steep.
How to Make Aquavit
- 1 bottle of vodka (700 ml) around 40% ABV
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds (4 g)
- 1/2 bunch fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dill seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (12 g)
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds (4 g)
- 3 cardamom pods, bruised
- 2 whole cloves
- Optional: peel of one lemon (14 g)
- Optional: peel of one orange (14 g)
- Use a vegetable peeler to peel the citrus (if using) and make sure there is no white pith.
- Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the spices.
- In a small pan, toast the spices until the aromas are just released then leave to cool.
- Add toasted spices to a lidded glass jar, add the citrus peel (if using), then pour the vodka on top. Store in a cool, dry spot at room temperature.
- Close the lid and give it a gentle shake.
- Leave to infuse for 2-3 days as a minimum, shaking the jar daily.
- Taste as you go to see until you have your ideal flavour. For a more intense aquavit, leave the spices to steep for up to two weeks.
- When ready, strain the liquid through a stainer lined with muslin cloth or a coffee filter and discard the solids.
- Pour the aquavit into a bottle with a tight fitting lid and store in the freezer.
- Choose a smooth vodka with a clean flavour at around 40% ABV. It might take longer for the herbs and spices to infuse but you won’t have to cut it with water to bring it down to the desired ABV.
- If using the citrus peel of lemons or oranges, using a vegetable peeler and ensure there is no white pith at all to avoid bitterness.
- Taste daily after 3 days of maceration. If it starts to develop a bitter note, remove the citrus peel.
- The ideal maceration period will vary according to your taste.
How to Use Aquavit in Cocktails
Aquavit is traditionally served neat, chilled from the freezer and as an accompaniment to Nordic food such as smoked salmon and rye bread. In cocktails, aquavit can be used in a Bloody Mary as the base spirit, in an Aquavit Mule, a twist on the Negroni, in a French 75, a savoury style Aquavit Martini or simply with tonic water garnished with dill.
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