Aquavits (or aquavites or akvavits) is a high-proof liquor that has been made in Scandinavia since the 15th Century by distilling fermented potato or grain mash and flavoring it with savory, herbaceous ingredients. Caraway seeds—which account for rye bread's flavor—are always included in a traditional aquavit. Cumin, lemon or orange peel, cardamom, dill, clove, aniseed and fennel are also typical. Some aquavits—particularly Norwegian ones—are mellowed with barrel aging, while others are consumed young, raw and crystal clear.
Countless varieties of aquavit are available throughout Scandinavia, but its rarer in North America. Despite the ample supply of commercially available aquavits, it's still common for Swedes to make their own. While true aquavit production involves distillation, you can cop the same effect by infusing a store-bought spirit with any number of savory ingredients.
1. Start with a neutral spirit. A potato vodka—such as Boyd & Blair, Chopin or Teton Glacier— which picks up flavors better than grain vodka due to its higher viscosity.
2. Clean your ingredients thoroughly. Cut all the pith from citrus to avoid bitterness, and toast hard spices to intensify their flavors. Chop or slice fruits and vegetables into manageable pieces; the more surface area, the more flavor gets extracted.
3. Use a clean glass jar as an infusion vessel. A vodka bottle works fine, provided your ingredients fit through the small opening.
4. Different ingredients require different infusion times, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Taste is the best judge here. Once the infusion is complete, strain finished aquavit through a coffee filter. It will keep indefinitely in the freezer.
Toast ¼ cup coriander seeds and combine with 750 ml potato vodka, leaving to infuse for one week. Add ½ bunch dill fronds (from crown dill if available) and let infuse for three to four more days. Strain and store.
Fig and Cardamom
Toast ¼ cup cardamom pods and combine with 750 ml potato vodka, leaving to infuse for one week. Wash and halve ½ cup dried black mission figs and add to the infusion for four to five days more. Strain and store.
Peel, wash and coarsely chop a horseradish root. Combine ¼ cup chopped horseradish with 750 ml potato vodka. Leave to infuse for one to two weeks. Strain and store.