Yes, it’s part of Minnesota’s drinking fabric, but that doesn’t mean aquavit is universally beloved.
“It seems like everyone has memories of Christmas dinners at the grandparents’ house, sitting around and drinking it,” said Jesse Held, the bar director for Jester Concepts’ restaurants, including Monello in Minneapolis. “It was terrible! I think most of those grandkids that are now adults didn’t like it then and don’t like it now.”
Oh, but things have changed, as Held will be the first to say.
Better-quality, artisanal versions of the liquor — a light-colored, caraway-forward spirit with plenty of complexity — have hit the market in recent years. Bartenders and drinkers, always looking for the next wave, have jumped on board. Now the Nordic spirit, traditionally imbibed around the holidays, has shaken off its old-fashioned reputation and been transformed into one of the season’s trendiest sippers — showing up in cocktail bars and fad magazines around the country.
And guess what? Minnesota still might do it best. Just like grandpa always knew.
“It’s not a secret anymore,” Held said. “It gets used throughout the country, but we’re seeing a larger presence in Minnesota and that’s because of our heritage.” Sample these cocktails made with aquavit:
The Sadler’s Wells
Monello, Mpls., monellompls.com
This potion made for two melds the zestiness of lemon and orange with the smoothness of vermouth and the zip of salt, and is simple enough to let its aquavit base shine.
Norseman Distillery, Mpls., norsemandistillery.com
Here, aquavit gets the lush treatment, paired with lime and the herbal, vegetal flavors of Olympia, Norseman’s version of green Chartreuse.
The fall of Vraalstad
The Commodore, St. Paul, thecommodorebar.com
With dill-infused aquavit, the floral essence of elderflowers and besk, an obscure, wormwood-spiced Swedish liquor, what could be more Scandinavian?