‘Best in the World’ cookbook, world-class spirit: Aquavit – Spirit of the Nordics and Aalborg Akvavit

For a few years now, gourmands have been aware of the special aspects of Nordic cuisine. After all, one of the highest rated restaurants in the world was in Denmark! The interesting flavor profiles found in Nordic food and beverage products incorporate hearty (and determined, if plants can be called so) natural ingredients that are able to survive the harshest winters.

A new book, Aquavit –Spirit of the Nordics, was named “Best in the World” at the international finals of the 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held in Yantai, China. This coffee table book by Rainer Schillings and Ansgar Pudenz, and published by  Verlag in Hamburg was made in cooperation with Arcus Norway AS, the producer of Linie Aquavit and Aalborg Akvavit. I was happy to be hosted to read the book and try Aalborg Akvavit: both www.sazerac.com

Aquavit –Spirit of the Nordics is both gorgeous and accessible for home cooks. I learned that the clear spirit — known by a few spellings throughout Northern Europe — has been distilled since at least as far back as the 14th century! Distillation apparatus was found in an ancient Danish castle. Each country has its own special flavors and recipes.

Aalborg Taffel Akvavit is made in the Danish style, with mostly wheat grain and caraway. It is recommended to drink it ice-cold — I keep mine in the freezer — with “Y shaped glasses”. I have a mini martini glass; I think they mean something like that. As each different aquavit has its own flavor profile, each goes with different types of food. This exact recipe dates from 1846. Aalborg Taffel Aquavit is recommended with traditional food, at Easter and Christmas, with poultry and white fish. Out of the freezer, it has a rich, dense consistency, with a fresh herbal nose that progresses to a sea breeze. The caraway is a pronounced taste note, which would make it the perfect accompaniment to any rye bread sandwich. It doesn’t have any citrus notes, the way gin does.

The Norwegian Linie — which I have not tried — has a fascinating backstory. It was sent off by ship to the Dutch East Indies, who refused it at the port. During its trip to and fro, the liquid was jostled and aged. The flavor upon return was discovered to be exquisite! No modern method can recreate the qualities . . . and so, this spirit is sent around the world by ship following the same route as generations ago!

The style of enjoying aquavit has changed in modern times: today, it’s common to enjoy an after dinner drink by the fire. It reminds one of the “hygge” vibe that has swept Scandinavia and North America: that cozy feeling of cocooning in winter. But in the olden days, aquavit was enjoyed as an aperatif shot with beer. Either way is good!

The cookbook has interesting cocktail recipes, which thankfully, don’t require hard-to-obtain ingredients. They include a “Nordic Mary” (the savory notes of Aalborg Taffel Aquavit would work so well) and topping it with ginger beer. I would suggest a darker, more pungent ginger beer. The sweet, light kind might not be as good a companion to the caraway flavors.

The cookbook also features lots of food recipes, with the spirit used in both traditional and unexpected ways. Fish treated like the Nordic gravlax, light sprays on beef carpaccio, as well as fruit jellies and ice creams all will make your home entertaining sophisticated and fresh.


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