Norway’s Opland aquavit is proof that aquavit doesn’t have to be all about caraway and a high ABV. Liv Fleischhacker spoke to master blender Ivan Abrahamsen about Norwegian aquavit traditions.
When Germans think aquavit, they tend to think: cold, caraway, and Danish. Thrown back quickly, like shots. But the Norwegian aquavit tradition is actually quite different. The potato-based spirit is enjoyed at room temperature, golden in color thanks to the six-month wood maturation process, and is often served in a nosing glass.
What Makes Norwegian Aquavit Unique?
The European Union, of course, has regulations as to what can be considered aquavit, but also Norway has its own strict definition. To be labelled as a Norwegian aquavit, the spirit must be produced using potatoes grown in Norwegian soil and matured in a wooden cask for a minimum of six months. This is truly what differentiates Norwegian aquavit from the rest.
Funnily enough, Arcus master blender Ivan Abrahamsen didn’t grow up drinking aquavit. He enjoyed his first sip at the ripe old age of 27 or 28. However, at that time, he drank it while eating – a fact that he considers very important. “That was around the age when I began being interested in traditional national food and drinks. Perhaps if I’d been introduced to it before, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. But the food and drink pairing has always made sense to me in terms of aquavit,” says Abrahamsen.
Opland Aquavit is Norway’s Little Secret
Arcus’s new Opland range of aquavit is a special one. Opland is a county in the middle of Norway, located next to one of the country’s highest mountains. Google it and you’ll immediately be on Skyscanner, trying to book a flight. It’s truly nature at its best. Around 1870, the farmers of the region got together and produced a spirit. Today, Abrahamsen and his team try to produce their aquavit using the same recipe. They use the same spices and “try to keep the same quality and base.”
Opland aquavit is basically Norway’s best kept secret – it’s the country’s top selling brand, yet outside of Norway, few have heard of it. Its caraway notes aren’t very pronounced. Its two-year maturation process makes it mellow, but complex. The spices are roundly integrated into the flavor. All thanks to that Norwegian cask maturation.
Opland aquavit is best enjoyed at room temperature, sipped like a malt whisky – a tradition that reaches all the way back to 19th century Norway. Abrahamsen likes to enjoy his at the end of a long work day. In summer, he’ll add a beer into the mix. He’s even managed to convert his wife, he boasts, with a laugh.
Ivan Abrahamsen: The Man Behind the Blends
His is a funny story. Originally a researcher busying himself with all things milk, Arcus called him to ask if he was interested in working for them. He was. Abrahamsen began as product developer, which seemed to suit him. “I’ve always been interested in eating and taste, working with good food and drinks seemed natural,” he says.
Soon afterwards, he began developing spirits – mainly aquavits, but also blended cognacs and his own whisky. Arcus is a powerhouse producer of alcohol in Norway, but aquavit is their main focus. “I was working on it and simply tried to do my best. That was 2005. Now it’s 14 years later and I’m the master blender for aquavit. I think you simply have to be interested in flavors and tastes. And don’t ever compromise on quality,” says Abrahamsen. As a master blender, you become stubborn when it comes to quality. “I think you need a feeling for what people like. What kind of flavors they like to drink. It’s not a particularly romantic story, it just happened. I try to do my best,” he says.
Abrahamsen’s personal favorite aquavit is the Opland Madeira Cask, matured for five years. And of course, he enjoys it in a tulip glass, like a true Norwegian.
Bildquelle: Opland Auqavit