Minnesota, the land of 10,000 Scandinavians, is now home to the first American-made Danish aquavit. Inspired by the celebratory dinners he enjoyed while coaching Nordic skiing in Iceland, Mike McCarron created Gamle Ode Aquavit.
"Aquavit was central to those magical gatherings with great food and wonderful conversation. They were elegant, yet relaxed," McCarron said. Gamle Ode means "ode to old" in Danish and is McCarron's nod to the Danish-American Society's respect for tradition.
"They took great interest in helping me create an authentic dill aquavit and helped me understand its role in the smørrebrød -- a meal of intricate and artful open-faced sandwiches," said McCarron.
Gamle Ode is distilled by 45th Parallel Spirits of New Richmond, Wis., a young craft liquor company making its name with artisan vodka, gin and bourbon. Unlike most aquavits, which are made from potatoes, Gamle Ode is corn-based, lending it a slight sweetness that balances the strong dill.
Each bottle is infused with 50 pounds of this fresh organic herb from Rock Spring Farm in northeastern Iowa, along with a dash of caraway and juniper. Gamle Ode's bright flavor helps cleanse the palate between a smørrebrød's many courses: pungent cheeses, smoked and cured meats, and brined fish.
Aquavit is traditionally served in cordial glasses for toasts and paired with a pilsner during a meal. It's also sipped as an aperitif or a digestive. "It's good on the rocks or with a splash of soda," McCarron said, but be careful with cocktails. "Too many ingredients muddy its clean taste," he noted.
Aquavit is best in a mild Bloody Mary or cut with tonic and a splash of lemon or lime. At $30 a bottle, though, you might as well serve Gamle Ode the way it's done in the old country -- straight up. Find it at South Lyndale Liquors and Lake Wine and Spirits, Minneapolis, or directly from 45th Parallel Spirits.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Northern Heartland Kitchen."