To Scandinavians, flavoring spirits
such as vodka is old hat. They've been doing it for centuries
in what they affectionately call aquavit.
Vodka is probably the world's most ubiquitous spirit. It's a blank-slate beverage - odorless, colorless, and (at least to the uninitiated) nearly tasteless. This anonymity is the secret to vodka's astounding success, since it allows drinkers to add the stuff to just about anything they like and wind up with a cocktail that's to their taste.
A few years ago, infused vodkas became all the rage. Citrus flavors were especially popular, but bartenders also concocted fiery pepper, spicy cinnamon, and sensuous vanilla versions. Spirits manufacturers themselves cashed in on the do-it-yourself infusion trend. Vodka now comes in about as many prebottled flavors as Baskin-Robbins ice cream.
The first Swedish license to sell aquavit was granted in Stockholm in 1498, but you can bet that the Swedes were making and downing aquavit at home long before it became a licensed commercial enterprise. Aquavit is often taken with a beer chaser, but it's also a ritual part of a Scandinavian meal, served in traditional long-stemmed glasses. Instead of the domestic preference for fruit flavors, Scandinavian tastes prefer herbs and spices such as fennel, anise, dill, and especially caraway. Skål!
LINIE AQUAVIT ($30)
In 1805, the Norwegian Lysholm family accidentally sent a shipment of its aquavit to Australia. When the misdirected cargo finally got back to Norway, the Lysholms found that the stuff had developed smoother, richer flavors after crossing the equator twice. They named their new aged aquavit Linie (Norwegian for equator) and kept the process a secret for many years.
Today's Linie still uses the original Lysholm recipe, right down to the sea voyage. The potato-distilled spirit is flavored with caraway and herbs grown in the Norwegian countryside, then stored in casks previously used in the production of oloroso sherry, which adds notes of vanilla and oak. At any given time, a thousand casks full of Linie are maturing as deck cargo on Norwegian freighters on the open sea. The barrels spend four-and-a-half months rolling with the waves, docking in 35 countries, and crossing the equator twice. This is a toasty, rounded aquavit that's great on the rocks with a twist of lime.