Sunday, March 28, 2010

American Aquavit, Scandinavian Beer

For whatever reason, finding aquavit in San Francisco always takes some doing. Maybe it’s a caraway thing (you like it or you really don’t). And a survey of dealers online suggests that only a few brands get imported. But a few American distillers are producing aquavits of their own.

My previous post features the great North Shore Private Reserve from the North Shore Distillery in Illinois. This big, bright, slightly fruity aquavit has pronounced cumin and coriander notes, and would be a good place to start for those for haven’t acquired a taste for caraway.

Very different from North Shore is House Spirits Distillery’s Krogstad, a fiery pairing of caraway and star anise I first tasted in Portland, Oregon, where it’s made. There’s an elegant aged version produced in a limited run, Gammal Krogstad, that would be perfect for sipping with traditional Scandinavian food.

Some great mixed drinks can be made from aquavit, though I find that the challenge with some brands is to compliment the bite of the botanicals without watering it away. So to preserve the intensity of the herbs, I’m going to keep ice out of the glass this time, and mix with a mug of hot beer instead. My inspiration comes from Gary Regan’s recipe for a gin and stout classic, the Dog’s Nose.

Special thanks to Dave Hauslein, the beer buyer at Healthy Spirits, for his help with dark beer. Dave steered me in the direction of some stout and porter from Scandinavia that were perfect.

The Loki Dog’s Nose
  • 12 oz dark beer
  • 2 oz aquavit (Krogstad)
  • 2-3 tsp brown sugar
  • ground nutmeg for garnish
Heat the beer. Gary Regan says to put it in the microwave on high for a minute, but I’m nervous around microwaves after liquefying a takeout container at work last month. Heat the beer on the stove. Pour into a warmed beer mug, and dissolve the sugar gently. Add the spirits. Dust with nutmeg.

I made two rounds of this. For the first round, I used Sundby Stout from Denmark. The resulting mug was substantial but not too heavy, dry but not bitter. It was a little like drinking a glass of dark bread.

For the second one, I used a porter, Sinebrychoff from Finland. Rich and creamy. The stout worked very well, but the porter was more luxurious. And I increased the sugar for the porter from 2 teaspoons to 3 to bring up the richness a little.

This is really soporific, by the way. If I wanted to nod off gently on a lazy afternoon, this drink would be the best thing. Or the next best thing. I find a dog helps, but you can’t drink that.

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