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Drink of the Week: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian WoodThe first good sign of a decent cocktail bar is that they are using fresh ingredients. I'm not talking about lemon twists or lime wedges, I mean that they squeeze their fruit to make juice à la minute, and that they aren't using sour mix. But even if they take the time to use fresh citrus, it doesn't mean they know how to balance a drink. This is when a spirit-driven cocktail can save the day. A quick scan of the back bar may help you pick a winner without asking your bartender if they have this, that or the other thing. Of course, not all good drinks require obscure ingredients, but every once in a while you have to be willing to gather what you need yourself.

I can think of a few good bars in town that could make our drink of the week with what they have. No problem. They don't even need fresh juice. In fact, some of them probably know the recipe already. Yet, if you are trying this at home, you might need to pick up a few things. I have to admit that it has taken me over a year to collect everything I needed to make this drink. That's not to say that any of it is hard to find—I just stock my cabinet slowly over time. All of the items listed here are ages old. They all have history that can be counted in centuries. With that said, this cocktail has only been around for a year!

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood
1 oz aquavit
1 oz applejack
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Add all of the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a large twist of lemon peel.

The recipe above appeared on Jeffery Morgenthaler's blog in June 2009. His contribution to mixology goes way beyond this simple recipe, and his Norwegian Wood has already become a modern classic. As the story goes, he was challenged by an alcohol rep to create something with aquavit. It turned out so good, he featured it at Clyde Common and named it after his favorite Beatles song! If you aren't familiar with aquavit, it's a Scandinavian spirit akin to vodka flavored with caraway seeds and anise. Needless to say, it's not exactly known for its mixability. Despite the challenge, he came up with this, and it's a triumph.

Aquavit is pretty easy to find, and there are often a couple of brands to choose from. I brought Krogstad home from House Spirits in Portland. Applejack which was featured in the Jack Rose is not as common, but you should be able to track it down. It has a history in the United States as old as the country itself. Sweet vermouth is everywhere, but Yellow Chartreuse, on the other hand, is the most elusive of these items. It's around, but it isn't as common as its green-tinted brother.

Ok, so here's the deal. Aquavit tastes like a slice of fresh rye bread, and we all know how apples taste. The vermouth is detectable, but I think it helps to deepen the herbal notes from the Chartreuse. Green Chartreuse has a powerful flavor, but the Yellow variety used here is toned down a bit, and although I know it's my imagination, it always reminds me of honey for some reason. Anyway, wrap all of those flavors together and top it off with Angostura spices and lemon oil and you have a delightful sipper. Give this one a try, even if it takes you a year to gather everything you need.

15 comments to Drink of the Week: Norwegian Wood

  • Scott

    Well, you've got me intrigued...as a lover of the all-spirit cocktail, (enjoying a Saratoga as I type..btw thanks for that D.o.W)and owner of a bottle of Yellow Chartreuse (seek out a drink called Shanghi Gin), I will have to go out and seek an Aquavit...I had seen a few at a local shop, and may have to take a ride tommorow, much to the chagrin of my wife, and my cabinet overflowing of obscure ingredients...wish I could keep to the tenets of the folks at the 12 Bottle bar site, but alas...(besides they just killed the Sazerac by eliminating Peychaud's from their 12 bottles)

    happy drinking

    scott

  • Eliminated Peychaud's eh? I feel that even if you are limiting your cabinet to 12 bottles, you shouldn't have to count bitters!

    Good news for you once you get the aquavit, you are partway toward making the Trident Cocktail. I think that one is next on your all-spirit drink list!

  • Scott

    Randy...as said, out to buy a bottle today, all I was able to get was the ubiquitous Aalborg...the shop with the variety was in the other direction of my travels today...anyway...you hit on another great drink! i enjoy the mash of herbal-ness as all ingredients do the dance well together...thanks! Trident when i get dome dry sherry, all we have is sweeter sherries in the cabinet...

  • As the song says, "isn't it good, Norwegian Wood?"

  • Scott

    r-
    maybe you could speak to the differences in the Aquavit brands found out there in the marketplace...
    ...are the ones that travel "across the equator" ("Linie" ??) really that much better...are some drier than others, are some "herbed" different than others...?
    I have one shop that carries a few brands, but most carry Aalborg from Denmark ($14/750ml)...is this about all i would need for mixing purposes...?
    Thanks in advance...
    -S

  • Scott, that sounds like a great topic for a post someday. I wish I had more experience with this spirit, but I only started trying it when I was out in Portland this year. Linie and Aalborg are also the most common around here, but I have not tried either of them. We just don't have a lot of cocktails that use the stuff, so unless you are of Scandanavian descent, chances are, most folks have never even tried aquavit. Personally, I don't think I have a lot of use for multiple bottles, so unless someone wants to send me samples, I'm not likely to buy more until I am almost out.

    I do know that Krogstad, and probably others, are considered "young" or unaged versions. Apparently, there are others that undergo some maturation process which I would presume takes place in a barrel. That could obviously lead to some interesting results, so perhaps there is merit in finding some other brands to compare.

    I have come to believe that the differences are more about the process and the botanicals than the geographical origin, although I bet the latter has some influence on the former, especially considering tradition and local availability of ingredients over the centuries.

  • Randy,
    Just wanted to say hi and thank you for the recipe and blog. I subscribed to your rss feed a couple of months ago and have been enjoying your posts ever since. The site is really excellent.

    This cocktail looks really amazing; can't wait to try it. We finally had our first aquavit cocktail a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it but I only have one recipe. I'll be adding Norwegian Wood to the list soon.

    The recipe that I have is called The Horatio and comes from Jacob Grier via Imbibe magazine. You can check it out there or stop by QuietDrinking.com sometime.

    Take care and thanks,
    Jason

    • Jason,
      Thanks for the kind words. I like what you are doing on Quiet Drinking, and thanks for adding Summit Sips to your Blogroll. I have now done the same for you.

      I'll have to make the Horatio. With so few aquavit recipes, it shouldn't be hard to try them all. That said, you obviously haven't had the Trident Cocktail. I think most of my aquavit has been donated to making that drink. Give it a shot at let me know what you think. Besides, it's always nice to find ways to use the Peach Bitters you have in your cabinet, right?!

  • [...] both QPD and I were very anxious to give it a go.  Go check out the Summit Sips blog entry for the Norwegian Wood and read up on the who, when and [...]

  • [...] tasting notes), at Musings on Cocktails (Ereich prefers calvados as an ingredient), and at Summit Sips. Or, just Google “Norwegian Wood cocktail” and peruse any number of blogs for a few more [...]

  • [...] tasting notes), at Musings on Cocktails (Ereich prefers calvados as an ingredient), and at Summit Sips. Or, just Google “Norwegian Wood cocktail” and peruse any number of blogs for a few more [...]

  • Paul

    Another use for aquavit which I found in a cooking magazine is a drink called Fix It

    4cl Gin( Beefeater )
    1cl aquavit ( Linie )
    3cl lemon juice
    2cl agave syrup

    Skake with ice and strain into a frozen coupe glass. I haven't tried it myself yet, but will do so.

  • Valerie

    MMMM... need to try this drink. I 've been looking for a recipe to use up the Aquavit I have on hand. I tried Aquavit during my trip to Sweden in 2003 and loved it, but when I got home I realized it is a bit of an acquired taste. I suspect aquavit is somewhat like tequila; what is exported may be different than what is consumed mainland.

    • Valerie, you may be right about how the product varies. Have you tried an brands to compare? I know there is some flexibility with the ingredients and barrel aging is a factor. The bigger challenge is that a spirit with this flavor profile is challenging in a mixed drink. Be sure to check out the Trident cocktail as well as the Norwegian Negroni and let us know what you think.

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