Spicing your own liquor is very popular in Sweden and Scandinavia. It have always tickled a special nerve among people to make their own alcohol, adding grains and spices into a mash, and distill it in a simple pot still. But it is combined with a lot of problems, legal problem, flavor problems and safety problems. Moonshine productions is illegal in Scandinavia, and even in many US states. But buying clear spirit like vodka and, and infuse it with your own spices, is not illegal.
Since I have been a passionate aquavit and snaps consumer, all since I went to my academic forestry education in Sweden to become a “Forest Engineer”. Our student tradition was , and had been so for hundred years, to frequently eat, drink snaps, and sing snaps songs together.
I started collecting my aquavit bottles when I moved to US year of 2000. Aquavit was very hard to come by at any US liquor store, and most of my bottles were brought in from overseas, by my self when travelling, and visiting friends and family.
The last couple of years, interest for aquavit have grown rapidly in US and Canada, especially in areas with large Scandinavian population.
I live in such area now, Northwest Washington state.
Today Washington state have almost 30 small distilleries, of which a hand full produce aquavit. The growing trend is similar in most other states, but it seems like the small scale distilling industry is growing fastest here in Washington state.
When it comes to making aquavit, they are all in a learning experience, and some of them already produce some real good aquavit. They all offer free tasting on site, and guided tours through their distillery. I have so far visited three local distilleries, and had samples from their products.
It is evident that some of them have learnad about aquavit tradition back in Scandinavia. They have both knowledge about the variety of flavors that are expected from good aquavit, and knowledge about the deep tradition behind drinking snaps and aquavit. Some of these companies have started from scratch, with the primary goal to be an aquavit producer.
Other distilling companies have a background as long time whiskey, gin and vodka distillers, and are trying to break ground on the aquavit side of business. It seems like they are learning the harder way, and their products have less of outstanding character. One reason to that, can be that they produce an aquavit with no color, which is a sign that they do not infuse any spices or herbs after distilling. Caraway and/or dill plus other herbs and spices, are added into the alcohol before the final distilling.
Even thoug spicing your own alcohol, is widely spread hobby in Sweden, I have never tried it my self, but I have been long time curious about it. Now I have decided to learn more about that part.
To start, I will try to make a similar aquavit, to my Swedish favorites, Skåne Akvavit and OP Andersson Aquavit. They both are spiced with caraway, fennel and anise.
So I went to the local organic grocery store, Country Aire Market, and their bulk section for spices and herbs . There I got some dry seed and dry weeds to get started with.
This started as a “trial and error” experience for me, so I did not put any rocket science into it., I just needed to figure out how it works to infuse these dry herbs and spices into alcohol, and then mix them together, to make an aquavit.
I got about 1 oz each of caraway, fennel, star anise, dill weed plus a bunch other spices. I set them up in some 400-500 ml bottles, and they have been infusing in vodka for 2-3 weeks now. Most bottles were saturated with flavor after 5-10 days, others needs more time.
When the alcohol seems to be saturated with flavor, I filter it to separate the alcohol from the herbs and spices. That way the infusion process gets to an end, and my remaining 300-400 ml of concentrate, will stay with the same concentration, till I have to make a new batch.
I immidiately experienced how concentrated most of my infusions became. After a couple quick test I figured that I only needed drops of it, to spice a small 2-4cl shot. So now I needed to be able to control the drops, and got some 50 ml eyedropper bottles, in which I poured my infusions.
My whole idea was now to elaborate with small volumes, 2 cl ie approx 2/3 oz, and sooner or later I was hoping have a blend similar to Skåne or OP.
The pipette will allow me to drop 1 or a few drops of each flavor, into clear vodka, and instantly I can smell and taste the result.
The main reason I want to work with this concept, is that I can develope what I want much faster, than I can if I mix the the three spices and let them infuse together for 14 days. And what do I do, if my 14 day infusion is a failure?
Now I can repeat my testing, over and over again.
When I have a mix that I am happy with, I need to be able to convert the 2cl recipe to fit a bottle, or maybe 10 US gallons. To be able to both blend 2-4cl batches, as well as to blend a full size bottle batch, I need to know more about the volumes the pipette drops.
Some internet research tells me that there is about 20 drops of water in 1 ml. I did the test of that and got it confirmed.
But how many drops of 40% alcohol will there be in 1 ml?
Alcohol have different surface tension and different density, and now it is a mix of approx 4 parts alcohol and 6 parts water, since vodka is 40% alcohol (80 proof).
1 ml = 1 cc
10 ml = 1 cl
1 oz = 28 ml = 2.8 cl
By using small measuring cups, I quickly figured out that I had a 1 ml pipette. The glass pipette tube pretty much, filled the same volume every time, and it took me 30 pipettes to fill the 30 ml measuring glass.
I also found out that it needed about 36 drops of 40% alcohol per 1 ml.
Now I know enough, I can convert my recipe to any final volume of aquavit I need. Here is the numbers from my Scania Aquavit
Scania is the old name for the Swedish county Skåne.
I made a simple spread sheet on my Google Drive (cloud documents).
The green numbers are the ones I worked with, 40 ml in a measure glass, and 8+4+8 drops from the pipette.
My spreadsheet allows me to choose what ever batch size I want, and it calculates the recipe. My example below, shows a batch for a 750 ml bottle.
Final word. It is amazing so easy it is to make a copy of a masterpiece. Of course there is some nuances, that separate the copy from the original, which makes the copy an original as well.
I will put this “Scania Aquavit” up for a blind test comparison with the real Skåne Akvavit one day, and I will let you know the result.
My wife will be my first “tester”, because Skåne Akvavit is her favorite aquavit and snaps.