If my trip to Denmark taught me anything about alcohol, it’s that I’m not drinking enough gin & tonics. If it taught me a second thing, it’s that I’m definitely not drinking enough aquavit. And if it (somehow) managed to teach me yet another thing, it would be that I should have been combining these two drinks quite some time ago.
There are few things more boringly pedantic than condiment policing. Put tomato sauce on your baby, I don’t give a damn. I don’t know if you know this about food, but different people from different places season, dress, and sauce things differently, and this is good, actually.
Aquavit, the Scandinavian “water of life”, is the more aggressive, more savoury relative of gin I should have been inviting to parties all along. Just as juniper is to gin, caraway and/or dill are to aquavit. But unlike gin’s juniper, those flavours are not at all shy.
Where gin blends, aquavit fights. Rather than complement, it cuts. This makes it great for many things, which I will tell you about now.
Sipping with snacks
You know how pickles help balance out rich and salty fare with their contrasting flavours? Aquavit is kind of like a pickle that gets you drunk. Serve it ice cold — keep the bottle in the freezer — with roasted meats (such as pork), cheese and crackers, or any other combo of salty and creamy, or go full Nordic and enjoy it with pickled herring or some other tinned fish.
Rinse your glass
If you want to ease into the world of dill and/or caraway-flavored booze, give your cocktail glass a little rinse. It works well with a martini — especially if you’re a fan of a dirty one — but aquavit plays surprisingly well with citrus, especially grapefruit. Just pour a quarter shot in, swirl it around the glass, and dump out the excess (maybe into your mouth).
Top with tonic
My favourite drink I had in Copenhagen was, hands down, the aquavit and tonic I had at Barr, which came with slices of cornichon in the glass among the ice cubes.
As I sipped it, I though “This is what a savoury cocktail should be.” The drink reminded me of salty food, rather than hitting me over the head with a bacon fat wash or some other nonsense. The pickle slices — without the addition of brine — provided just a hint of salinity and acid.
It was one of the most balanced two-ingredient drinks I’d ever had, and you can make it by combining one and a half shots of aquavit and three shots of tonic (Fever Tree is good) in a glass over ice. Cornichons optional.
Think of it as “angry gin”
Anything gin can do, aquavit can do with a lot more attitude (and caraway and dill). Beyond tonic and martinis, it’s excellent when in a mule (just add ginger beer), a simple rickey, and even fruity tiki drinks.
It may take your palate a moment to acclimate to the more forward flavour, but it’s a curve worth learning.