Celebrating Aquavit in the Pacific Northwest

by | Jul 28, 2023

Aquavit (also known as aquavite, akvavit, akevitt or snaps) derives from the Latin aqua vitae, meaning “water of life.” That certainly sounds more poetic than how the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Bureau formally describes it in their Distilled Spirits Beverage Alcohol Manual: “A caraway and/or dill flavored distilled spirits product.”

Still, this loose definition allows distillers to produce an aquavit that speaks to their particular distillery. And here in the Northwest, with its strong Scandinavian influence, that is certainly the case. 

In typical Nordic fashion, Christian Krogstad always kept a bottle of this spirit in his freezer or refrigerator for use during festive gatherings like Christmas and Midsummer celebrations. At these celebrations, Scandinavians shout skol (also skål) while maintaining eye contact as they down a chilled shot.

In 2006, when Krogstad could not import any Linie Aquavit from Norway in time for the Christmas holidays, he took it upon himself to distill the spirit. Using a neutral corn spirit, he maturated the botanicals and redistilled it for a crisp spirit with a caraway-forward feel.

His aquavit remained at the distillery for marketing purposes until the “cool kid” bartenders expressed a desire to use aquavit in cocktails as a substitute for gin or vodka. As Krogstad observed, “Though I and many of the others were inspired by the traditions of aquavit culture by drinking it neat, we have all been largely sustained by the cocktail uses of the spirit since many of the best bartenders in the country have demonstrated how well it works in drinks.”

In 2007, he began selling Krogstad Aquavit and now also produces Krogstad Gamle Aquavit, which is barrel-aged in French oak Pinot Noir barrels from various Oregon wineries. Since then, other Pacific Northwest distilleries produce an aquavit that speaks to their own sensibilities.

Below are more of our favorites.

Adrift Distillers | Long Beach, Washington

Adrift’s Aquavit leans towards the Danish style with strong notes of caraway and dill, balanced by a touch of anise, coriander, spruce tips, juniper and a bit of resin.  

The Aimsir Distilling Company | Portland, Oregon

“Aimsir’s Vaettir Aquavit was born from head distiller Andy Robinson’s passion for Norse mythology,” says co-founder Christine Hopkins. Made from the same neutral grain spirit used in their award-winning Aitil House Gin and Astrid Vodka, its unique flavor profile is caraway-forward, balanced with fennel, star anise, citrus and hints of lavender. A year after its 2022 release, the Vaettir Aquavit recently won a silver medal at the American Distilling Institute.

Blackfish Spirits Distillery | Auburn, Washington

Distiller Matt Mike Giffords describes his aquavit as tasting like caraway with a pleasant black licorice flavor from the anise. In his estimation, Blackfish’s aquavit is a perfect palate cleanser after eating lutefisk or fatty pork dishes, as well as a great accompaniment to smoked salmon and rye bread. As a testament to the spirit’s authenticity, Gifford notes that the aquavit is popular among the Sons of Norway and other local Scandinavian groups.

Bull Run Distilling | Portland, Oregon

For over a decade, Bull Run has been producing an aquavit named Regnig Dag — Swedish for ‘rainy day.’ This spirit is made by infusing their Medoyeff Vodka with coriander, star anise and caraway, and then aging it in a former whiskey or wine barrel. Bull Run’s aquavit can be used in multiple cocktails, from a companion in a Bloody Mary, to replacing the rum in a Daiquiri or replacing the absinthe in a Sazerac.

The Hardware Distilling Co. | Hoodsport, Washington

Being a fjord, Washington’s Hood Canal seems like the perfect place for the production of aquavit. Hardware Distilling’s aquavit is based on its pear vodka, with caraway being the most dominant flavor. Hardware’s other aquavits include a dill aquavit, a cardamom aquavit and a citrus-forward aquavit called Sommarkvåll.

Nightside Distillery | Edgewood, Washington

When Tom Greene and his business partner decided to start an international spirits line, Greene thought aquavit would be a natural fit given the Scandinavian community he met in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard while working as a longshoreman. Nightside makes its aquavit using a base alcohol from apples and cane sugar, then works in botanicals and ages the aquavit for several months in a used Nightside Bourbon barrel. Because Nightside aquavit contains earthy notes, the distillery has even found success using it in their whiskey cocktails, such as an Old Fashioned.

Scratch Distillery | Edmonds, Washington

According to distiller Kim Karrick, they love Aquavit so much that they make multiple versions of this spirit, which they age in neutral American oak barrels that were originally used to age one of their other spirits. All their aquavits spend at least 10 months in barrel, making them more complex and approachable. Their WAquavit — distilled from Washington wheat from the Skagit Valley and infused with caraway, dill, cardamom and orange peel — won Sip Magazine’s Best of the Northwest Double Gold in 2019 and Platinum in 2022. In addition, their Underground Aquavit is distilled from Washington potatoes and infused with caraway and dill. Scratch Distillery also produces seasonal aquavits such as their Lemon Pepper Aquavit, distilled from Washington soft white winter wheat and infused with caraway, dill, Meyer lemon peel and smoked black peppercorns.  

Temple Distilling | Lynnwood, Washington

Co-founder A.J. Temple is half-Swedish, so he grew up savoring aquavit. He named their aquavit Stjärna — Swedish for ‘star,’ as star anise is its main flavor component, balanced with caraway seed, orange peel and grains of paradise. In 2022, Stjärna Aquavit was awarded a Double Gold in the Best of the Northwest competition by Sip Magazine.


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