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Great drinks of Europe – Akvavit

Akvavit has been a Scandinavian favourite for centuries. The spirit’s name is derived from the Latin aqua vitae, or ‘water of life’ (as indeed is the word ‘whisky’, which comes via the Gaelic equivalent of the phrase).

Like vodka, it is distilled from either grain or potatoes and is then flavoured with herbs, spices or fruit oil. The drink is central to the drinking culture of all Scandinavian nations and various brands exist. Foremost among them is Aalborg. It takes its name from the place where, until recently, it was produced. Denmark’s fourth largest city, located in northern Jutland, Aalborg had been the centre of the country’s distilling industry since the mid-19th century. (Denmark’s distilling heritage, though, goes back far further, to around 1400. Half-way through the following century, King Christian III established a royal distillery.) In 1881, Danish Distillers (De Danske Spritfabrikkerne) was formed in Aalborg and began producing the spirit bearing the city’s name. It found favour at home and abroad and the firm became the world’s largest akvavit producer and exporter. In some respects, the drink became too popular. In 1917, to combat widespread alcoholism in Denmark, a controlled price for spirits was introduced. A bottle of Aalborg ‘Taffel’ akvavit rose from 90øre to 12.40kr. It had the desired effect: The average consumption per person fell from 15 to two bottles a year. Danes traditionally drink akvavit with food, usually with a beer chaser, and it is said to go particularly well with marinated and pickled herring, salads and cold meats. The firm moved to a more modern facility in Aalborg in 1931, to keep up with demand. However, in 2015, production moved across the Skagerrak to Norway after the company changed hands. As the final batch left the distillery, its soon to be out of work employees sent it on its way with a melancholic rendition of a Danish drinking song.

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