Linie Aquavit: Born in Norway, Built by the Oceans



Most of the drinks out there are concocted after long meditations, consultations and elaborate experiments. Take fruits or grains out to precise temperatures or pressures, that too in the right medium until the fussy yeast cells leap into the wort to leave behind something that is now grist for the long and multiple distillation processes. Put the result away in the right kinds of casks. When it gets sufficiently aged, get the stuff out, bottle it and sell it, your job is finished.

Sorry, but one drink from Norway refuses to call it off until you take her across the planet in a long voyage.

Meet the Norwegian drink, Linie Aquavit.

Though Aquavit, which means ‘water of life’ in Norwegian, is common all across the Scandinavian countries, this particular strain of the drink, Linie, is one off by the peculiarity by which it is made.

Before learning about the weird processes of creating the aquavit that smacks of some Viking ritual, you must know that there was a time when it lived a drab life as any other drink. 

Norwegians drank it during holidays and celebrations. And sent the rest in sherry casks far away to regions basking under the tropical sun.

Thus in 1805, Heinrich Meincke and his sister Catherina Lysholm, loaded a brig with stockfish, ham, cheese and a few casks of aquavit, distilled from potato, they had their eyes set on the prospects of selling a few kicks to the distant country, Indonesia.

What they didn’t know at the time was that the drinking habits of Indonesians were different. The Asian country did not warm itself to the new cargo that had arrived from Scandinavia. The casks were promptly returned to their home. As soon as the brig reached back the Norwegian shore with the aquavit, they extracted the barrels and sampled the content, fearing, that the drink was spoiled.

Abracadabra!

The magic had happened! The siblings found that there occurred a sea change in the taste of the aquavit that came back from Indonesia. This was different! Yummier! 

What could have unlocked the hidden chambers of taste in the aquavit they were so familiar with? They looked at the ocean.

So in 1891, as soon as Jrgen Lysholm, the nephew of the siblings who sent the first batch of aquavit abroad and got it back, founded his first distillery he sent a few barrels of aquavit across the ocean. 

There was absolutely no other destination for the aquavit on the ship’s deck. It only had to travel. And return. The journey was its destination.

Two hundred years have passed since the first voyage of aquavit. Come to Norway now. You may catch in its ports a few ships, waiting with their decks lined up with casks of aquavit. They are all set for the transatlantic voyage, to take their contents two times across the line (Linie means line in Norwegian, the equator).

In the next four and half months, the ships will take them to the distant shores of Australia, brush past 35 countries and cross the equator two times, before their prow turn homebound.

By the time the ships reach home, the liquid in the casks might have run through a range of seasons – the frigid Nordic winter storms to the tropical heat at the equator. The freezing cold in the south and the many chastising suns towards the equator would have mellowed the drink. The variations in temperature, the sea air and also the pitching of the ship over the brutal waves, which swirl the liquid in the casks, will all take their toll on the final taste of a bottle of aquavit.

Don’t believe this writer.

When you get a bottle of Linie Aquavit, read the log recorded on the back of its label. The detailed schedule of the journey it undertook, and ports where the ship had docked before it came to your hand are all noted in detail on it. Dates included.

Every sip is guaranteed to leave traces of a long voyage.

Norwegian aquavit, distilled from potato, is infused with many herbs and spices like caraway, which have medicinal value. The barrels storing the spirit must be previously used for storing sherry. They give a rich, rounded flavour, with aniseed, caraway and oak giving complexity. 

The barrels give aquavit its golden colour, and the residual matter of the sherry gives its pleasant sweetness.

Magic is provided by the ocean.
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