What is Aquavit?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Aquavit, sometimes spelled Akvavit or Akevitt, depending on the nation of origin, is a Scandinavian liquor. The alcohol content of the extremely strong distilled spirits can range between 42-45%, and the beverage is usually served with appetizers, or as part of a heavy holiday meal. Like many regional liquors, Aquavit has loyal fans in the countries which make it, but other people around the world sometimes do not find the flavor to their liking. The primary flavor is, of course, the intense distilled alcohol, but for people who are not fans of the caraway seeds traditionally blended in, the finish can be unpleasant.

Aquavit was first referenced in Norway in 1531.
Aquavit was first referenced in Norway in 1531.

The earliest recorded reference to Aquavit was in Norway in 1531. The name comes from the Latin aqua, meaning water, and vitae, or life. Many national beverages are known by some variation of this title, which can lead to some confusion. The liquor is made from a potato or grain mash, fermented traditionally with caraway seeds. Aquavit made with fennel, dill, anise, or coriander is also available, but caraway seeds are usually included for a hint of the classic flavor.

Potatoes, which are used to make Aquavit.
Potatoes, which are used to make Aquavit.

Depending on the nation of origin, Aquavit is sold raw and unaged, or it is sold in an aged form. Norway especially seems to prefer aged Aquavit, and vintages of over 12 years old are available for sale in that nation. The color varies from clear, indicating that the alcohol is fresh or was aged in old oak casks, to dark brown, suggesting a long aging in young oak. Aging in oak certainly alters the flavor of Aquavit, making it taste slightly less raw and intense.

Younger Aquavit is usually clear in color.
Younger Aquavit is usually clear in color.

Traditionally, Aquavit is served cold. Drinkers can take shots of the distilled alcohol, or they can savor a larger glass. It is often served with appetizers, particularly fish, and some Scandinavians joke that the Aquavit helps the fish swim to the stomach. It is also served with heavy meals, under the belief that the fiery liquor will assist with digestion.

Drinkers often take shots of Aquavit.
Drinkers often take shots of Aquavit.

Usually served plain, Aquavit can also be used in mixed drinks. A variety of mixers can be used with Aquavit, including grenadine, lemon, bitters, juice, and sodas. Aquavit is also said to complement the flavor of high quality beer, and the beverages are sometimes mixed or drunk in tandem. Purists believe that the flavor of the Aquavit will be obscured by the heavier beer, while other consumers are not as concerned about this, or view it as a benefit.

Excessive consumption of alcohol, such as Aquavit, may lead to high blood pressure.
Excessive consumption of alcohol, such as Aquavit, may lead to high blood pressure.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I was not initially impressed but I do enjoy it!


is aquavit available in south africa? sounds very interesting!


I was in Sweden a few years back and I think my fondest memories are my aquavit sessions with friends. I even learned how to do a traditional Swedish skol!

It goes like this: first, you take up the schnapps glass in your right hand. Keep the elbow at an 87% angle as you move it up half-way between your waist and chin. Lean forward and look like a bored cow. Say skal and drink all the aquavit, counting to ten. Lower your glass, nod your head and count to ten again. That's all there is to it!


Here are a few interesting things about aquavit that I recently ran across -

1.Sweden sells 26 brands of aquavit made with caraway, anise, elderberries, fennel, lemon and orange bitters - also the bog myrtle is used to make the Swedish Porsbannvin aquavit.

2.Starting in the 1800s, a spoonful of aquavit was taken daily for good health.

3. A baby may get a spoonful on Christmas!

4. An aquavit is always served cold in a glass with a long stem so the hand doesn't warm up the drink.

5.Aquavit is generally served with spicy or salty food. The smorgasbord (sandwich table) started with the aquavit table in the 1800s. This table was filled with appetizers of herring, bread, cheese and aquavit.

Nice traditions!


Aquavit lovers have a hard time agreeing on which is the best way to enjoy Aquavit, and how it can best be produced.

One of the most famous Aquavit drinks is Linie Aquavit. This drink is made as normal then shipped around the world twice. The makers and many purchasers believe that the process of traveling around the equator twice produces finer liquor as all the variations in temperature, combined with sea air and the swaying of the ship, mix it well.

Whether this is true or not is a matter of opinion, as many argue it is just a great marketing tool used to attract people to the brand.


Aquavit is an interesting liquor that is worth trying if you are looking for something new with a distinct flavor. If find that it mixes well in a variety of cocktails, and those who favor Aquavit have created entire databases with this great liquor as its base.

One of my favorite drinks that use Aquavit is the Sailor Mercury recipe. All you need to make it is 45 ml of Aquavit, 30 ml of orange liqueur, a splash of lemon juice and ice. For this drink you just shake the ingredients together with ice and port it into a brandy snifter.

Can anyone else share some great Aquavit mixes they have come across?

I am always interested in trying new things with one of my favorite drinks.

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