|Isidore Henius. Doesn't exactly|
look like a party animal, I admit
The akvavit you’re most likely to encounter is Aalborg’s Taffel Akvavit, apparently the most popular spirit in Denmark. Invented by Isidore Henius in 1846, it is considered a benchmark companion to herring. It has a pronounced, though not overpowering, caraway aroma, along with citrus and maybe a hint of cloves. It’s remarkably smooth on the tongue given its 45% ABV, even sweetish, though I’m assuming this sensation comes from the botanicals (aniseed can give this impression) rather than added sugar. Henius himself was actually a Pole but he settled in Denmark and overhauled the industry through an understanding of modern rectification techniques, producing his Taffel Akvavit as a quality bread-and-butter product that quickly dominated the market. I took the precaution of investing in some marinated herring for this tasting, and I can confirm that the two go together very well, a classic combo of sweet, sour and aromatic spice. These are cold, heady, Nordic flavours. From the freezer it loses some of the wallowy sweetness and becomes sharper, actually making it a slightly better foil for food.
|Harald Jensen, clearly the sensitive,|
creative one: just look at the hair
Aalborg’s Jubilaeums Akvavit was produced to celebrate the centenary of the firm’s Taffel product in 1946. It is a yellow colour from ageing in American white oak and has a soft nose of coriander, orange and vanilla (presumably from the oak). There is also dill in there too. I find it rather lovely, and I think it would appeal to many a gin drinker because of the pronounced coriander flavour, though it is not a hugely complex drink. It stands up pretty well to herring. I also tried this one frozen, although Aalborg don't prescribe this serve; it actually seems to keep its character more than the last two, although again I feel that it goes better with food (or at least with marinated herring) at a low temperature.
|The four-month journey on which every Linie barrel must go|
Linie has a soft but burnished aroma, seemingly with dill as prominent as caraway (although there doesn’t seem to be any dill in it), plus vanilla and orange notes too, and a smooth, sweet caraway flavour with a subtle wood element and a chocolately aftertaste. Being Norwegian, it is recommended to be drunk at room temperature or only slightly chilled, not frozen as the Danes tend to drink it. They also suggest drinking it as a chaser after beer. I found it very agreeable, sweet enough to be approachable but not cloying. It goes OK with marinated herring but not as well as Aalborg Taffel: there is something about the wood that seems to clash slightly.
|There is not much of Hven island|
|The range of Hven spirits, all in the trademark 50cl flasks|
If you’re one of those people who just doesn’t like aniseed then you probably don’t like caraway and you’re not going to like akvavit. But this small handful of examples, from three different countries, goes to show what a varied product it is. As with gin, the use of botanical flavourings gives you scope to take the taste in all kinds of directions, and the common use of wood ageing gives even more scope. I like the simple Aalborg Taffel—which does indeed go splendidly with herring—but the mellow complexity of the Linie and, in particular, the Hven makes for a spirit to be savoured on its own. And if you’re a gin drinker, check out the twinkling, coriander-laced Jubilaeums. Akvavit isn’t cheap in this country, with the basic Taffel selling for about £20 and the Jubilaeums and Linie for £26 (the other two don’t seem to be sold here at all, though you can tour the Hven distillery if you find yourself on the island), but I’d recommend giving it a try.
* The Aalborg site draws a distinction between “marinated herring” and “pickled herring” (which is better with Brøndum Snaps, they reckon), as well as a couple of other kinds of cured herring. The stuff I’m eating is labeled as “marinated” and is quite sweet, flavoured with dill, onions, etc. I’m guessing that by “pickled” they mean a more tart cure.