A Midsommar Aquavit Party

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.

Next up, the über Scandinavian gravlax (cured salmon).  Serve this alongside some roasted fingerling potatoes and the traditional mustard sauce

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.  



What Is Aquavit? (& 4 Cocktails to Use It In)

If there is one question we receive from a visitor to our distillery, it is nearly always, “What is aquavit?”

The question comes so often and so predictably, we joke about making our staff wear buttons that say, “Ask me what aquavit is.” (They would probably all quit if we did that though.)


Though some in-the-know bars have integrated aquavit into their cocktail programs, aquavit remains solidly planted in the “obscure liquor” category for people outside of the northernmost reaches of Europe. So, let us take a moment to answer our favorite question: What is aquavit?

Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian spirit. Just as gin has to have a dominant flavor of juniper berries, aquavit has to have a dominant flavor that is either caraway seeds or dill seeds (or both!) to earn its name. Aquavit, also spelled akevitt or akvavit, and sometimes just called snapps, comes from the Latin aqua vitae, or water of life. Interestingly, this is the same meaning as the French word for brandy, eau-de-vie, and the Celtic origins of the word whisky, usquebaugh.

Aquavit is the national drink of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, though being Norwegian, I know the most about the traditions in Norway, where aquavit has existed since at least the 1500s. As with many spirits, it was originally believed to be a cure for virtually anything that ailed you. At the very least, it kept lumbermen and farmers warm as they worked, and its popularity became so widespread that it became a cultural centerpiece.



Aquavit must be infused with caraway and/or dill, but it can also feature a cast of other supporting spices such as citrus, fennel, anise, star anise, grains of paradise, and juniper. The aquavit we make, for example, includes caraway, cardamom, fennel, cloves, ginger, pink peppercorn, and citrus peels.

Aquavit may be un-aged, a style often referred to as taffel aquavit, or aged in oak casks. Norwegians have most notably evolved an affinity for aquavit that is aged in used sherry casks for anywhere from a year to nearly two decades, which gives these aquavits a distinct sweetness and nutty and raisiny notes that bolster the caraway.

A particular style of Norwegian aquavit, called Linie aquavit (linie is Norwegian for line, and the old word for equator), is aged on ships that travel to Australia and back. The companies that use this technique assert that the rocking of the ships, combined with the changes in temperature and humidity along the voyage, creates completely unique aging effects. I know first hand that the U.S. government is not, at present, particularly open to letting small American distilleries try similar techniques. Indeed, according to U.S. regulations you can’t even call an aquavit aged. We make an aquavit that is aged in cognac casks, but we have to say it is “matured.”

These days aquavit is most often part of celebratory meals on holidays: Easter, Constitution Day, Midsummer, and most especially Christmas.Special aquavit varieties are made to pair with different feasting dishes: shellfish, pinnekjøtt (a Christmas lamb dish), lutefiskfjellmatt (“mountain food”), and so on.

And aquavit is an absolute must for the julebord (“Christmas table"), which are the epic Christmas feasts that Norwegian companies throw for all their employees. A good Christmas meal is likely to start with aquavit-spiked gløgg and then proceed with sips of ice-cold aquavit interspersed amongst rich, meat-heavy dishes.

Aquavit is not the most easy-going spirit to work with in cocktails. The caraway gives it a savory bent that tends to be assertive. But, even so, the results of a nicely balanced aquavit cocktail make it worth any effort it took to get there. I like aquavit best in simple cocktails.

Some notable examples:

  • A friend of ours who has a bitters company makes an aquavit negroni with our cognac cask-aged aquavit.
  • Our friends at a distillery called Tattersall make a concoction they call the North Side (a spin on the Southside, which is a gin cocktail) with aquavit, lime, and mint.
  • One of my favorite cocktails ever is a gimlet made with aquavit and homemade lime cordial.
  • And our friends at Marvel Bar in the Twin Cities gained note for their Tomas Collins, a bracing but balanced, Nordic-inflected twist on a classic Tom Collins.


  • 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 ounces aquavit (I use our Øvrevann Aquavit, which is an un-aged taffel-style aquavit)
  • 1 teaspoon dill pickle brine
  • Club soda

-Emily Vikre

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