(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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The word akvavit derives from Medieval Latin aqua vītae, "water of life." An apocryphal story holds it actually means "Water from the Vine," a picturesque folk etymology derived through the confusion of Latin vītae (genitive of vita) with Italian vite, "vine." The Gaelic word whisky is derived from the same Latin source .
While this claim for the medicinal properties of the drink may be rather inflated, it is a popular belief that akvavit will ease the digestion of rich foods. In Denmark it is traditionally associated with Christmas lunch. In Norway it is particularly drunk at celebrations, such as Christmas or May 17 (Norwegian Constitution Day). In Sweden it is a staple of the traditional midsummer celebrations dinner, usually drunk while singing one of many drinking songs. It is usually drunk as a schnapps during meals, especially during the appetizer course— along with pickled herring, crayfish, lutefisk or smoked fish. In this regard it is popularly quipped that akvavit helps the fish swim down to the stomach. It is also a regular on the traditional Norwegian Christmas meals, including roasted rib of pork and stickmeat (pinnekjøtt). It is said that the spices and the alcohol helps digest the meal which is very rich in fat.
Among the most important brands are Løiten, Lysholm and Gilde from Norway, Aalborg from Denmark and O.P Andersson from Sweden. While the Danish and Swedish variants are normally very light in colour, most of the Norwegian brands are matured in oak casks for at least one year and for some brands even as long as 12 years, making them generally darker in colour. While members of all three nations can be found to claim that "their" style of Akvavit is the best as a matter of national pride, Norwegian akevitt tend to have, if not the most distinctive character, then at least the most overpowering flavour and deepest colour due to the aging process.
Particular to the Norwegian tradition is the occurrence of Linje akvavits (such as "Løiten Linje" and "Lysholm Linje"). These have been carried in oak casks onboard ships crossing the equator ("Linje") twice before it is sold. While many experts claim that this tradition is little more than a gimmick, some argue that the moving seas and frequent temperature changes cause the spirit to extract more flavour from the casks. Norwegian akvavit distillers Arcus has carried out a scientific test where they tried to emulate the rocking of the casks aboard the "Linje" ships while the casks were subjected to the weather elements as they would aboard a ship. The finished product was according to Arcus far from the taste that a proper "Linje" akvavit should have, thus the tradition of shipping the akvavit casks past the "Linje" and back continues.
Akvavit arguably complements beer better than many other spirits, and in a drinking situation, any quantity of akvavit is usually preceded (or succeeded) by a swig of beer. Enthusiasts generally lament this practice, claiming that the beer will ruin the delicately balanced flavour and aftertaste.