The word aquavit means “water of life” and for Scandinavians that definition holds pretty true. In Denmark no traditional lunch or smørrebrød (open-face sandwich) would be complete without a shot of chilled ‘akvavit’ followed by a cold beer. A common accompaniment to the country’s beloved pickled herring, this potent liquor reputedly aids in digestion. In Sweden it’s known as “snaps” and downed in one gulp with beer and drinking songs to follow. In Norway it’s sipped alongside the evening meal.
What is aquavit? It’s a potato- or grain-based vodka infused with caraway seeds. Caraway not your thing? Take heart — depending upon the region and distiller, dill, fennel, coriander seeds or star anise may stand in for the customary spice.
Warned by Swedish friends of the high cost of alcohol in their homeland, my first taste of aquavit came courtesy of a hastily purchased sampler pack at Arlanda Airport. Pulling out one of the tiny bottles and twisting off its cap, I took a swig of the clear liquid and shuddered. It was horrendous. In fact, it was so pungent and overpowering that I couldn’t help but wonder if someone had tricked me into trying rubbing alcohol. After this inauspicious introduction I consumed all future shots in polite sips and with that ever popular beer chaser.
This weekend I’m heading to a party where guests bring and sample homemade aquavit. In the past people have experimented with such unorthodox infusions as blueberry and bubblegum. Although purists may scoff at untraditional flavorings, to me, they are worlds better than the spice-laced original.
Keeping palatability in mind, I’ve made Apple Pie Aquavit. Using two apples, a cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, whole nutmeg and, of course, vodka, this creation smells like a boozy apple pie. Sweetened with a few tablespoons of simple syrup, it tastes a bit like that, too. An authentic Scandinavian aquavit? Nope. A delicious drink? You bet!
APPLE PIE AQUAVIT/AKVAVIT
Makes 32 ounces
Note: Takes 7 to 10 days to infuse
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 inch piece of vanilla bean, split
3 3/4 cups potato-based vodka
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 whole nutmeg
1 to 3 tablespoons simple syrup
for the simple syrup:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
Place the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean in a piece of cheesecloth, tie them into a small bundle and put that in large, tight sealing, glass canister or mason jar. Add the vodka and diced apples, seal and shake the ingredients together.
Store the steeping vodka in a cool, dark spot for 5 days, shaking the ingredients together 2 or 3 times per day. On the fifth day add 1 whole nutmeg to the jar and shake again.
Depending on how flavorful you’d like your aquavit to be, you can continue steeping the mixture for another 2 to 5 days. Once you’ve achieved the desired taste, you will need to make the simple syrup to sweeten the aquavit. Simmer 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved completely and the liquid has thickened slightly but is still clear in color. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Strain the aquavit through a fine mesh strainer or chinois and into a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of simple syrup and whisk to combine. Taste and add more simple syrup if desired.
Using a funnel, pour the aquavit into a bottle, cover and refrigerate until ready to consume.