(from Latin aqua vitae, “water of life”) Scandinavian clear distilled liquor flavoured with caraway seeds. Distilled from a fermented potato or grain mash, filtered with charcoal, and usually bottled without aging, aquavit has an alcohol content of 42–45percnt by volume. Most aquavits are sweet and spicy. It is usually served chilled and unmixed, in small glasses.
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A snaps is usually brændevin/brännvin (which may be vodka or akvavit), but can also be some other light-bodied spirit, as long as it isn't sweet. Snaps is usually distilled from grain or potato and is, in its raw form, without fragrance. Most snaps have flavour added as a part of the production or later. This can come from storing in casks or by adding, for example, herbs. The flavour of the spirit should be in harmony with the flavour of the meal. Spirits such as whisky or brandy are seldom drunk as snaps, but it is more and more common with e.g. a smokey whisky to some meals.
Danes, Swedes and Swedish-speaking Finns have a tradition of singing songs, drikkeviser/snapsvisor, before drinking snaps. The drikkevise/snapsvisa is typically an ode to the joys of snaps and praises its flavour, or expresses a craving for the drink.
Snaps (and drikkeviser/snapsvisor) are an inseparable part of crayfish parties, which are notoriously tipsy affairs, even by Swedish and Finnish standards. This is not a surprise, since dozens of songs might be sung during such a meal, and every song demands a round of snaps. However, the glass does not need to be emptied every time and it is recommended not to drink the snaps too fast. An entrée consisting of sild/sill (pickled herring) and potatoes is most typically served with snaps, as is also the infamous Swedish surströmming, which most people can't stomach and which some find impossible to swallow without an accompanying snaps. This heritage comes from the brännvinsbord, an archaic Swedish entrée.
A tradition of "home flavouring" one's snaps exists in Scandinavia. This tradition is strongest in the southern areas, particularly Denmark. A modern Snaps enthusiast will typically buy a commercially-made, neutral-tasting Snaps, then add flavour by adding selected herbs, found in nature or grown in the garden. For instance, in northern Denmark, various spices are added to snaps to make a version called "Bjesk", meaning "bitter".
Popular choices in home flavouring include, but are certainly not limited to: Bog-myrtle (Myrica gale L.), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa L.), Dill (Anethum graveolens L.), Persian Walnut (Juglans regia L.). , St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum L.), Absinth Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.), and Woodruff (Galium odoratum L.). Plants are commonly used individually, but some enthusiasts experiment with mixing to achieve the perfect flavour.