Aquavit. What Is It?


This glass of aquavit, from Danish restaurant Aamanns-Copenhagen, is flavored with toasted rye bread.

Aquavit (or akvavit) is a flavored liquor beloved of Scandinavians, and served in funny little glasses. Derived from the Latin aqua vitae, it means “water of life.”

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The beverage is made from potato vodka or other neutral clear spirit, infused with botanicals that can include caraway, lemon peel, or a little meadow flower called pericum, which tints the aquavit yellow. Infusion can take two to three weeks, during which time the vessels it’s stored in must be occasionally stirred or turned. Aquavit may also be further aged in oak casks, which gives it a mellow flavor like fine bourbon.

Downed in a single gulp, aquavit is served chilled. In Denmark, it is often drunk as a prelude, or between courses of smorrebrod, little open-face sandwiches featuring slices of meat or cold filets of pickled fish. The beverage is said to stimulate the appetite.

At Aamanns-Copehagen, New York’s new Danish restaurant in Tribeca, aquavit is made in-house. The flavors often available ($7 per glass) include lemon, cranberry, dill, beet, roasted pumpkin, parsley, and toasted rye bread. The bread is baked in the restaurant’s kitchen, and serves as the edible base for the smorrebrod. It colors the aquavit coffee-brown, has a flavor reminiscent of soy sauce, and a warm, toasty fragrance. The hardest thing is to knock it back in a single gulp – it almost tastes better sipped.

Aquavit is also used in cooking. The pork pate in this smorrebrod at Aamanns is made with it.

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