It turns out we’re in the middle of a gin boom. Still. For those of us who were bartending back when Mojitos were the latest thing and Aperol hadn’t yet been Spritzed, there’s a certain feeling of ‘job done’: having spent years extolling the virtues of gin to a largely uninterested vodka-swilling crowd, we can now hardly keep up with the barrage of new gins, gin newspaper features and gin festivals.
In the on-trade this is old news, of course. Gin started outselling vodka in some of the more cocktail-oriented venues several years ago, although it’s probably fair to say that none of us could have predicted the subsequent deluge. On the other hand, as a friend pointed out, looking at the bigger picture it’s simply back to business as usual: the British drank an awful lot of gin from the 1690s right through to the 1960s, when the rise of vodka proved something of a distraction. From this angle, we’ve merely taken a 50-year break from gin and will now have another 300 or so of riots, acts, bathtubs, martinis, sophistication and everything else associated with our national nip.
So, gin is unquestionably ‘now’. The question, as ever, is: what’s next? Aquavit, close cousin of gin, is starting to make waves outside of its traditional Scandinavian situation and is increasingly finding its way onto bars and cocktail lists. In many ways, this is a natural progression: gin is essentially alcohol flavoured with juniper plus other stuff, aquavit is alcohol flavoured with caraway and/or dill and other stuff. The difference in their flavour profiles is largely based on the choice of botanicals. As gins have pushed and challenged the limits of the category, with juniper firmly taking a back seat in many modern styles and brands have sought to differentiate themselves with different botanicals (there’s even one made using Harley Davidson motorbike parts as a ‘botanical’. Seriously, look it up.), the distance to aquavit has steadily decreased, making aquavit a logical next step for the inquisitive gin enthusiast.
Aquavit is remarkably easy to make drinks with; it happily replaces gin in many cocktails – O.P Anderson makes a great Negroni, Aalborg Dild & Tonic is a wonderful apéritif. For those looking for a wider palate of flavours to mix with, aquvait provides an exciting base, which is how bars at the vanguard are giving their drinks lists, a new twist. Check out our upcoming ‘Aquavit Cocktail of the Month’ blog for more details and inspiration. Aquavit has long been the spirit of the summer in Scandinavia, where it lubricates many a naked Midsummer party*; this summer we’re seeing the spirit reach a wider public. Possibly with less nudity.
*this may not actually be true.
By Phil Duffy (Amathus Head of Spirits)