Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Fiona Beckett

Snaps decision: the best Nordic sharpeners

Scandinavia’s most distinctive drink is aquavit:  generally a grain- or potato-based spirit infused with botanicals, like gin is, and also known as snaps. A bottle of OP Anderson aquavit alcoholic beverage stands on the bar at Altia Oyj headquarter offices in Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. Pekka Tennila, chief executive officer of Altia Oyj, says he's now ready to consider spending money on mergers again after a half-decade hiatus. Photographer: Roni Rekomaa/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Scandinavia’s most distinctive drink is aquavit, which is generally a grain- or potato-based spirit infused with botanicals, much as gin is. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Given the popularity of Scandinavian food over the past few years, it’s strange that Nordic drinks haven’t followed suit – or, not in a good way. Lagers such as Carlsberg and ciders such as Rekorderlig and Kopparberg may be top sellers for Denmark and Sweden, respectively, but, frankly, they could have been made anywhere.

Scandinavia’s most distinctive drink is aquavit (or akvavit, as it’s spelled in Sweden), which is generally a grain- or potato-based spirit infused with botanicals, much as gin is, but with caraway and dill rather than juniper as the key flavouring. Also known as snaps, it’s traditionally consumed with food, often with a lager chaser, and is particularly good with cured and pickled fish. (While researching this piece, I also came across a Welsh aquavit, the 40% Silver Circle Aqua Vit, which is £35.95 for 70cl from The Secret Bottle Shop; that would be fun if you’re looking for an unusual gift, though it has a bit too much caraway for my taste.)

Considering they have this homegrown alternative to gin, you might wonder why Scandinavians would bother making their own, but there are a few examples of gins, including a couple of old toms, a sweeter style that I think works better as a shot than diluted with tonic. In fact, I found this generally to be the case with these drinks, not least because they have more flavour than many other spirits on the market.

Given the quality of water in Scandinavia, vodka makes rather more sense. I was really impressed by the purity and smoothness of Tom of Finland, which is named after the artist of the same name (and, yes, I am aware that Finland isn’t Scandinavian, more Nordic).

I also loved a couple of birch sap-based drinks I found through Scandi Kitchen, which is generally a good place to forage for unusual bevvies. Birch drinks date back many centuries and were an important nutritional supplement during the cold winters. I liked the sparkling wine less than the snaps in today’s pick, but both are unique.

Another big Scandi success story is sparkling tea, first created by Danish sommelier Jacob Kocemba of Copenhagen’s Sparkling Tea Co, and sold here as an own-label by Fortnum & Mason. It’s a good, alcohol-free alternative to champagne, albeit at a not-dissimilar price.

The real bargain I unearthed, however, is the Dryck Bubbel sparkling apple and lingonberry drink, which Ikea sells for £3.25 for a full-size 750ml bottle. It’s made from concentrate, but tastes pretty natural, and is definitely better than a lot of fruit ciders out there; it’s non-alcoholic, too.

Five Scandinavian spirits you should try

Copenhagen Distillery Dill Anise Aquavit £38.70 (50cl) Hedonism, £39.75 The Whisky Exchange, £39.74 Master of Malt, 41%. A modern take on aquavit, with a fresh herb character. Would be good with smoked fish or smørrebrød.

Sav Snaps £34.99 (50cl) Scandi Kitchen, 38%. Another name for aquavit, and made from birch sap and flavoured with angelica. Delicate, aromatic, smooth and sweet, it would be great with salmon.

Hernö Old Tom Gin £34.45 (50cl) Master of Malt, £38 Waitrose Cellar, £40 Ocado, 43%. A good hit of juniper, along with lingonberries and meadowsweet, plus a touch of sweetness. Try it as a shot.

Tom of Finland Vodka £29.95 (50cl) Gerry’s, £35 Master of Malt, 40%. I assumed this was just a brand extension of the gay icon, but it’s a fantastic product. Very, smooth, very pure – you get a real sense of the base grains (wheat and rye). Pop it in the freezer.

Kyrö Malt Rye Whisky £46.95 (50cl) The Whisky Exchange, £50.95 Master of Malt, 47.2%. This award-winning Finnish rye whisky has the wonderfully full flavour of freshly baked rye bread. Drink neat with ice or in your favourite whisky cocktail.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.