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Birch, caraway and dill-flavoured spirits from Nordic countries are enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the fact that the world has fallen hard for the region’s cuisine and design. Many of these spirits would have been bar staples a hundred years ago, writes Christine Sismondo. Now, they’re back, though in some cases, still a bit tricky to track down
Birch, caraway and dill-flavoured spirits from Nordic countries are enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the fact that the world has fallen hard for the region’s cuisine and design. Many of these spirits would have been bar staples a hundred years ago, writes Christine Sismondo. Now, they’re back, though in some cases, still a bit tricky to track down

Frosted tipples: How to add Scandinavian flavours to your bar Add to ...

Aquavit

Although it is really just a dill- or caraway-flavoured neutral grain spirit, aquavit shouldn’t be filed away as flavoured vodka. Think of it, instead, as a relative of gin since the best expressions of aquavit employ botanicals judiciously so that savoury flavours remain subtle. Aquavit can be made anywhere, something that craft distilleries in British Columbia are tweaking to: Okanagan Wines and Spirits, Sheringham and Long Table all make homegrown versions. Aquavits go great in a Bloody Caesar and make a mean Gibson, but are properly served chilled, neat and often preceded by the toast “Skål!” Brennivín, a unique spirit from Iceland, is in the aquavit family and has a pronounced liquorice note, as well as a certain lore associated with its local nickname, Black Death. Traditionally drunk with putrefied shark meat, Brennivín has made multiple cameo pop culture appearances, including Kill Bill: Volume 2. There’s even a death metal band named after the spirit. BEST BET: It’s worth the effort to try to track down the elusive Linie, which is aged, a little more mellow and made in Norway.

Swedish Punsch

This is one of those ingredients that cost bartenders a lot of sleep, since a few pre-Prohibition cocktails called for this obscure liqueur. Since it’s essentially a seasoned sugarcane spirit, some solved the problem by making their own by adding tea, citrus, cloves, cardamom and sugar to cachaça, a sugarcane spirit. The brand Kronan has recently become available in the United States, so bartenders itching to make the Diki-Diki cocktail are in luck. BEST BET: Although hard to find in Canada, Kronan is available at good liquor stores in the United States.

Vodka

While it needs no introduction, it’s worth noting that some of the most refined and interesting vodkas hail from northern Europe. Iceland’s Reyka is extremely smooth and light, characteristics that may derive from its pure-as-the-driven-snow water source or, perhaps, its novel lava rock filtration process. There’s also Purity and Absolut Elyx, both from Sweden and both remarkably creamy and rich. On the other end of the spectrum is Norvegia (from Norway, obviously), which is delightfully peppery, clean-tasting and bouncy – especially for a vodka. It’s also quite a bargain at about $30, compared with other premium vodkas. BEST BET: Norvegia, for having the most character.

Schnapps

Any small, strong drink meant to be taken straight might be referred to as “snaps” in, say, Sweden, but since Iceland is home to some absolutely unique birch schnapps – Björk and Birkir to name a couple – the category merits attention. These are utterly unlike any other schnapps: woody, of course, but also earthy and herbal with a hint of citrus and mint. Although we’re not likely to see these esoteric spirits in many Canadian liquor stores soon, they’re already making inroads in cocktail bars and boutique liquor stores in San Francisco, Portland and New York. BEST BET: Björk, obviously. It’s a conversation piece, if nothing else.

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