Linie Aquavit: The Spirit of Norway
By Dave Fox
Every year on May 17, Norwegians celebrate the drafting of their constitution with parades, parties, and a few swigs of their national fire water, aquavit.
Aquavit (pronounced “AH-keh-veet” and sometimes spelled “akvavit”) is a potato-based liquor, flavored with caraway. Other herbs, such as dill and cumin, are sometimes added. Some varieties also contain subtle hints of fruit. The drink takes its name from the Latin “aqua vitae,” meaning “water of life.” It’s a potent drink with an alcohol content around 40 percent.
You’ll find aquavit throughout Scandinavia, but the Norwegians make a special kind they call “linie aquavit.” Linie (pronounced “LINN-yuh”) is the Norwegian word for “line,” referring, in this case, to the equator. Linie aquavit is shipped from Norway, across the equator, down to Australia, and back again in oak sherry casks. Afficionados say the liquor gains a richer flavor as it sloshes around in the barrels for several weeks.
The concept of linie aquavit happened by accident in the 1800s. Jørgen Lysholm owned a distillery in Trondheim, Norway. His mother and uncle sent a batch of aquavit to Asia on a large sailing ship, hoping to market it there. It didn’t sell, however, and five barrels were shipped back to Trondheim. When the aquavit arrived back in Norway, Lysholm noticed it had a richer flavor. At that time, Norway was shipping dried cod around the world. Lysholm began loading barrels of aquavit onto freighters that carried the cod, and retrieving them at the end of a long round trip.
With a little searching, you can find Linie Aquavit in the United States. If you look through the bottle at the back side of the label, you’ll find the name of the ship that carried it across the equator, along with the date it sailed.
Most Norwegians store their aquavit in the freezer and drink it ice cold from stemmed cordial glasses. The stem on the glass prevents your hand from warming the liquor. Many people sip it with a pilsner beer chaser, which accentuates the caraway flavor. It’s consumed year-round, particularly on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, and Constitution Day.