The Anora warehouse

Aquavit: spirit of the Nordics

27 November, 2023

Shay Waterworth dives into Norway’s aquavit pool and finds producers striking out to gain greater global recognition.

Scandinavian culture has never been more popular. From interior design to the blood-fuelled anarchy of TV series Vikings, Scandi is celebrated all over the world. However, while its stylish leather chairs are admired globally, its native spirit, aquavit, has never had the same international appeal.

Within Scandinavia there are different styles of aquavit which date back to the 15th century and the spirit is largely made from grain or potato and traditionally is caraway or dill-forward. Broadly speaking, Norwegian aquavit must be aged for at least six months in oak while Swedish and Danish styles are made of grain, with the latter preferring a caraway- forward flavour. There are nuances and exceptions to the rules, but for simplicity in international growth this is the framework.

Nordic company Anora is the biggest producer by a distance. The corporation is the result of a merger between Nordic distillers Altia and Arcus in 2021 and at its Gjellerasen distillery 45 minutes outside Oslo, the company produces a total of 20 million litres of alcohol a year, of which about 5 million is aquavit. Around 1.3 million litres of this goes to the Norwegian market which means 3.7 million litres are exported all over the world. Some of the biggest export markets are Denmark, Germany and the US. In addition to the aquavits produced at Gjellerasen, Anora produces the famous OP Anderson in Sweden.

There are almost 400 different aquavits available on the Norwegian market and around 100 of them are from Anora.

This is according to Atle Minothi, brand ambassador of Anora’s aquavit portfolio, who is targeting international growth. “It’s common knowledge that we’re the biggest producer now, but we’re pushing for international attention because that’s where the long-term growth is. When bartenders or consumers try our aquavit they’re impressed, it’s just a case of getting the exposure.”

Sea ageing

One of Anora’s most recognised aquavit brands is Linie, which is physically aged at sea in sherry casks on a four-month journey to Australia and back – a tradition of the brand which dates back to 1805. However while the company honours these old quirks, it’s also pushing innovation. During a visit to its Gjellerasen site, Drinks International was exposed to a plethora of limited-edition releases, one of the standouts being Strand Braenderi Smor. This is a blend of three to six-year-old aquavits aged in sherry and red wine barrels, which is then flavoured with butter. To make 2,000 bottles, 13kg of butter is melted and mixed with cask strength aquavit before being extracted for 24 hours and frozen to filter out the crystallised fat.

In September this year, Niclas Appelquist was appointed director of innovation and product development at Anora. “This position brings together strategy development, entrepreneurship and innovation, a combination that I greatly enjoy,” he says. “As a person with a curious mindset and an eagerness to explore new things, Anora’s ways of working are an excellent match to mine. Anora has an impressive heritage in its Nordic spirits brands to build on and is well positioned for growth in new categories and international expansion.”

When it comes to progression, Himkok in Oslo, currently number 10 in The World’s 50 Best Bars, is on another level. It has been distilling its own aquavit on site for a decade now and the bar uses its own column still to produce a potato-based aquavit which is unaged (so it cannot be called a Norwegian aquavit) and then used as the basis for some of its drinks. Having launched on the new menu in September, Quince is a drink made up of Himkok aquavit, Patrón reposado, Dolin Blanc, elderflower wine and quince.

Maros Dzurus, bar manager at Himkok, told Drinks International: “Aquavit is very popular in the bar. Tourists often ask for something local to try, and then the people of Norway want to try our aquavit because it’s unique. It’s also a great spirit to build drinks from. When I first heard about Himkok I was blown away by the concept of a bar distilling its own spirits. It gives us flexibility and opportunities which other bars don’t have.”

Anora’s Minothi adds: “We have a good relationship with bars like Himkok, but we welcome craft distilling as a whole because it shows there’s a growing demand for different styles, which also leads to innovation, a greater understanding and ultimately more attention for the category.”

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