The summer solstice (the longest day of the year, usually June 20 or 21), is quite a big deal in Scandinavia. It makes sense, given that half the year is incredibly dark and rather cold (Scandinavia is up around the same latitude as Alaska), that the return of the sun would be celebrated in a major way. In Sweden, Midsommar, as it’s called, is celebrated with huge festivals, dancing around flower-covered Maypoles, and lots of aquavit. In Norway they call the solstice Sankthans Aften, and it is celebrated with huge bonfires along all the country’s many beaches, and of course with some beer and aquavit.
Last year, we had a fantastic aquavit party to celebrate Midsommar and the introduction of our cognac-cask aged Voyageur Aquavit. The one minor problem was that we are kind of disorganized and we didn’t manage to actually throw the party until, well, until September. A mere three months late. But, what we lack in timeliness and organizational skills, we try to make up for in enthusiasm and artistry. So, when we finally had our party, we went all out.
We enlisted a good friend of ours, Sue Watt, who is quite possibly the world’s most amazing event coordinator, and she also has an old barn and gorgeous property called Hemlock Preserve just a bit south of Duluth where she hosts events. Sue filled her barn with magical Norwegian antiques, evergreen boughs, and pewter. Entering the barn felt like walking into a fairyland. Northern Waters Smokehaus provided a Scandinavian-inspired feast, Zenith Bread Project made us fresh-baked cookies for dessert, and of course, we were in charge of the cocktails! There was a welcome song – sung by Joel and me – to the tune of a Disney Song, there were Norwegian drinking songs, and some aquavit descended from the ceiling across the barn, spilling dry ice smoke, to the epic reverberations of Also Sprach Zaratustra (you know, the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey).
So you may not be up for renting a whole barn to celebrate Midsommar (although, if you work on a similar schedule to us, you do have all the way until September to plan, so maybe you should give Sue a call!), but if you feel the urge to mark the official start of summer and the longest days of the year (which you should), we’ve outlined a menu below that you can execute at home. You can make everything, if you want to go all out, or just choose a few of the elements, fill some jars with wildflowers, and invite over a few friends. Just make sure you have aquavit.
Welcome drink: Sommerland Punsj
For 8 people
· 2 ripe peaches cut into slices
· 12 oz. Voyageur Aquavit
· 8 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth (not to be confused with Dolin Dry)
· 6 oz. lemon juice
· 4 oz. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water mixed until the sugar dissolves)
· 16 oz. soda water
In a large container or pitcher, mash the peaches to release their juices. Stir in the aquavit, mixing it well with the peaches to pick up their flavor. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. In a pitcher or punch bowl, combine the peach-infused aquavit, Dolin Blanc, lemon juice, and simple syrup and stir together well. Add ice in large cubes and stir. Top with soda water and serve.
A Fizzy Drink Option: 78 Degrees North
For one drink
· 1 oz. Øvrevann Aquavit
· ¾ oz. rhubarb syrup*
· ½ oz. lime juice
· Dry sparkling wine
Shake the aquavit, rhubarb syrup, and lime juice with ice to chill. Strain into a champagne flute or coupe and top with sparkling wine.
*To make rhubarb syrup, combine 8 oz. of fresh rhubarb, chopped into pieces, and 1 cup sugar in a blender. Pour 1 cup boiling water into the blender, cover and blend until pureed. Strain through a fine mesh straining, pressing on the pulp to get all the syrup out. Syrup keeps for at least a week in the refrigerator.
A Boozy Drink Option: The Kaupang (a Scanhattan)
For one drink
· 2 ½ oz. Voyageur Aquavit
· 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
· 3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Stir all the ingredients with ice until well chilled. Strain into a double rocks glass over a large cube of ice. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.
The Traditional Drink Option: Sip ice cold aquavit straight, accompanied by a beer (preferably a pilsner).
To begin, a chilled pea soup bright with herbs and swirled with tangy but rich crème fraiche.
And, of course, you can, and should, put together a Nordic-punctuated cheese plate with some Jarlsberg, Havarti, goat cheese, and rye crackers.
For a main course, rub lamb chops with sea salt and crushed caraway and grill them (2-3 minutes per side) until medium-rare. Serve accompanied with sauerkraut and roasted beets.
Finally, set up a buffet of a few different kinds of cookies, some good vanilla ice cream and toppings for an easy dessert.