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Duluth-made aquavit takes inspiration, flavor from Scandinavian roots

Mar 28, 2018 05:23PM ● By Editor
Ovrevann Aquavit is a delicately flavored spirit with subtle hints of caraway, cardamom and orange. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune)

By Lisa Futterman of The Chicago Tribune - March 28, 2018

In Chicago, we commonly say the weather is “cooler by the lake.” In Duluth, Minn., the expression turns to “colder by the lake.” Perched on the shores of Lake Superior, Duluth averages winter temps in the 20s and summer temps in the 70s, but that chilly lake provides deliciously clean and pure water to the city, and to Vikre Distillery.

Launched in 2013 by husband and wife Joel and Emily Vikre, the distillery started with a line of artisanal gins infused with native northern botanicals, but soon introduced two aquavits to the lineup. Aquavit, a traditional Nordic spirit from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, typically gets infused with caraway (and less frequently, dill) to create its distinct and beloved flavor.

Why take the leap from making an everyday liquor to creating a more obscure Scandinavian spirit? Says Emily, “I'm basically all Norwegian — I'm actually a Norwegian-American dual citizen — and aquavit was a spirit that had always figured into our holiday celebrations. Terroir can be the land, but it can also be the people, the culture and heritage of a place. So our aquavit is a reflection of my heritage and the Scandinavian heritage of people in (the Duluth) area. It was inspired by thinking about immigrants, and the flavors we bring with us that remind us of home.”

The result of this combination of nostalgia, pure water and distilling talent is Ovrevann Aquavit, a delicately flavored spirit with subtle hints of caraway, cardamom and orange — a far cry from the strong, pumpernickel-y aquavit my Danish aunt used to toast with — fantastic as a sub for gin (try it in a Norwegian martini) in simple cocktails. The Vikres also age a malted barley-based aquavit they call Voyageur in cognac barrels — it is softly spiced, mildly smoky and quite sippable.

Bartenders are increasingly adding aquavit to cocktails as a flavor accent. Andrew Turner, bar manager at Wicker Park’s The Delta, turned to Vikre Aquavit when tasked with creating a mezcal cocktail for the opening menu, and the Vicksburg Landing was born. “The aquavit’s like a sheaf of wheat in a bouquet of flowers,” Turner says, “it adds an earthiness from the caraway.”

His formula makes a mezcal-forward drink. In our version, we changed the ratio of the original cocktail to put the emphasis on the earthy subtlety of the aquavit.

Duluth Landing

Makes: 1 cocktail

1 ½ ounces Vikre Ovrevann aquavit

½ ounce white vermouth

½ ounce creme violette liqueur

½ ounce espadin mezcal

Dash maraschino liqueur

Place all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a coupe. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry.

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