07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Accidental Tradition

Technically this is my September post and is supposed to be about seasons. But leading up to Labor Day, authors were posting about traditions and I have discovered a new one. And since yesterday was Labor Day, I'm sneaking this one in under the "oh ~ is it already over?" excuse.

Two words: Linie Aquavit

When I was in Norway last year, I heard the unique story of Linie Aquavit (originally spelled akevitt) which is a potato-based distilled alcohol. Basically, it's the Norse version of vodka, but often with flavoring. I was interested because when my historical characters are in Norway, that's their liquor of choice.

The story of Linie began over 200 years ago when Norway shipped several of their native products to Australia, looking for a new market. The distilled beverage was poured into used sherry casks and lashed to the deck of the ship for the voyage "down under."

Long story shortened, the Australians sent it back north, untouched.

When the returned casks were opened, the akevitt retained a unique bouquet and had taken on a lovely amber color. The taste was smooth and aromatic, unlike any akevitt they had made before.

Still longer story shortened again, after much trial and error, the only way to recreate the unique color and flavor of this brand of akevitt was to ship it to the southern hemisphere and back ~ unopened and lashed to the deck of a sailing ship.

The assumptions made as to "why" are as follows:
1. We believe the constant swirling of the alcohol due to the natural motion of the ship helps leach flavor from the casks.
2. It might be the changes in the weather which the casks are subjected to: cold to hot to cold to hot to cold again.
3. We have no idea.

But it does work. So they still keep up the tradition today.

The liquor is called "Linie" because it crosses the line ~ the Equator ~ twice before it's sold. Every bottle (and my local BevMo stocks it!) actually has that batch's sailing dates stamped inside the label plus the name of the ship(s) it sailed on. In addition, you can track your own bottle on their website.

Nowadays, they use barges, not sailing shops. Faithful to the original situation, those sherry casks still ride on the deck where the weather and the vessel's movement create that special color and flavor.

The one exception to their "crosses the equator" twice promise happened during World War II. Norway was occupied by the Nazis and they commandeered one of the "Linie" ships. After a couple of mishaps, the akevitt rode around the world and crossed the equator FOUR times, arriving back in Norway three years after it originally sailed.

I'm not a drinker of distilled alcohol ~ it's strictly wine or beer for me, due to my family history. But I was curious and bought bottle. The scent was so engaging. The color, a rich amber. And the aquavit itself was smooth and smoky. I definitely can see my characters drinking it.

And for the record, I handed the bottle off to the author of cookbooks with recipes based on literary characters. Brander Hansen's chocolate cake has this very aquavit in the cake AND the frosting! I'm impatiently waiting for the recipe to be published so I can try it myself. (See Rhonda Plumhoff on Amazon for more information.)

Because I found the story so interesting and akevitt ties into my books, I bought "Norway is the New Scotland" emblazoned shot glasses and plan to have Linie tastings at speaking engagements or book signings whenever it's appropriate/legal.

I'm starting a new tradition based in a very old one. Skåle!


Judith Ashley said...

Hi Kris,
My body doesn't do sulfites so that leaves out most wines. But when I was in Croatia right after the Balkan War I had a potatoe based wine that was Fantastic - no headaches for me! I might try Linie Aquavit.
How cool to have something so unique to include in your stories. And, love the idea "Norway is the New Scotland' shot glasses.
BTW: Congratulations on becoming PAN eligible with "Prince of Norway"!

Sarah Raplee said...

What a fascinating story! And like so many discoveries, this one was made through serendipity rather than design. Love that aspect!

I'm adding my congratulations to you for becoming PAN eligible! You go, Girl!!!

Diana Mcc. said...

Great post! Congrats on becoming PAN eligible.