Historical aquavit cocktails – Henrik Steen Petersen

For countless generations, aquavit and schnapps has been heavily connected with the Danish lunchtime, in particular, during the Christmas and Easter lunches, as a trusted companion for herring, cheese and yellow peas.

The inclination of the 1980s towards sweet and colorful drinks, shots and liqueurs, forced schnapps to the fringes of the market from which it is now making its comeback, while becoming an innovative ingredient in cocktail menus across Denmark and abroad. To a certain extent, this revival is also coupled with the general interest in the Danish and Nordic kitchens.

Aquavit and cocktails back then – abroad

Previous generations might have enjoyed a Flyversjus (schnapps and lemon soda), or a Kaffepunch, for festive occasions but usually schnapps was only had neat with lunch.

When vodka started gaining ground across the Atlantic in the late forties, cocktail recipes with this new spirit naturally appeared in Denmark as well. With no access to a supplier, Danish bartenders simply exchanged the ingredient with aquavit. How hard can it be?

As vodka later reached Denmark, the Danish aquavit conversely found its way to the American west coast where the magazine ”House and Garden” would launch the Slalom Cocktail to its readers in the beginning of the 1950s.

Slalom Cocktail
6 cl. aquavit
3 cl. sweetened lime juice

Shake with plenty of ice and serve in a chilled Martini glass.

Nordic ingredients such as Aalborg Aquavit, Cherry Heering, and the Swedish punch also appeared at cocktail competitions in Hollywood, under the following Scandinavian name;

Flying Viking
4 cl. vodka
3 cl. Swedish punch
3 cl. Aalborg Aquavit

Stir with ice.

Cherry Heering was already known around the world, but De Danske Spritfabrikker did not quite make the final jump across the Atlantic until they served the Danish Mary (Aalborg Aquavit, tomato juice, lemon juice, English sauce and a pinch of celery salt) in the Danish pavilion during the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

In just a couple of years, they again took strides to reach the American market when they arranged the Aquavit Mixed Drink Competition in Hollywood. 68 bartenders from California participated, and Jake Ohlson shaked his way to victory with The Snoose:

The Snoose
3 cl. aquavit
3 cl. orange juice
3 cl. milk

Shake with ice and serve with grated coconut on top.

Among the finalists we also find “The Great Dane” by J. Popo Galsini:

The Great Dane
5 cl. Aalborg Aquavit
2 cl. triple sec
1 cl. falernum
2 cl. passion fruit nectar
2 cl. lemon juice

Shake with ice.

Aquavit and cocktails back then – Denmark

In Denmark, the Kaffepunch became a Bandit Cocktail when one part schnapps was mixed with one part Kahlúa – an ingredient introduced to Danes by Peter F. Heering who had acquired the license for production and sales in most of the world.

The original recipe for Kaffepunch from Western Jutland was simple: place a coin in the bottom of a coffee cup and pour coffee, until it is no longer visible. Then, pour schnapps in the same cup until you again reveal the coin.

Nevertheless, this was also a time for more sophisticated cocktails in Copenhagen and Denmark in general. In “Lommebogen – by Axel Sørensen from Café de la Reine” from the late 1930s, we find the Vupti-Gine, named in honor of a Danish cabaret success from that time. Moltkes Bar who also interpreted the recipe published the book, “Lommebogen”, in 2012:

Vupti-Gine Cocktail
3 cl. Caloric Swedish Punch
3 cl. Krone Akvavit
¼ tsp. Meyers’s Original Dark Rum
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Stir over ice and serve in a chilled couple glass.

Aquavit today

Today we have more opportunities than ever before to create cocktails with a base of aquavit and schnapps. Whereas previously, De Danske Spritfabrikker almost held a monopoly over the market (and they still produce 14 different types of aquavit/schnapps), we have seen resurgence in new producers reaching the stores from Denmark and the rest of the Nordic countries. These include Copenhagen Distillery, Nordisk Brænderi, Hven, Den Bornholmske Spritfabrik, Den Ny Spritfabrik, Schumacher, Hr. Skov, and many others.

Today, most cocktail bars in Copenhagen will have at least one aquavit-based cocktail on the menu. Flyversjussen? Still alive and well at Restaurant No. 2 and Restaurant Palægade among what might be the city’s largest selection of aquavit, schnapps and other types of brandies.

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