There are various ways of spelling this: aqvavitin Danish, aquavit in Swedish, and both spirits are also referred to as schnapps: also spelt in various ways according to the country. In Germany this term signifies virtually any strong drink. Danish aqvavit has always been made mostly from grain – ‘the Danish grape’ – but rye and, increasingly, potatoes are also used. It is usually flavoured with caraway and is one of the great national drinks of the Scandinavian countries. Danish aqvavit. especially the Aalborg brands of Danish Distilleries, is famous and there are various types, most of them stronger than the Swedish brands, some being flavoured with spices, aniseed and dill. Linie of Trondheim in Norway make a tea-coloured aquavit that, the label relates, has been sent to Australia and back, the label giving the ship and dates of the trip, something that makes customers very choosy about selecting a particular vessel travelling at a particular time. Aquavit is made in Germany and the Low Countries as well and there are various slightly flavoured versions.
Aquavit is always served iced and is an admirable accompaniment to the open sandwiches and piquant snacks served in the northern countries. Conventionally, aquavit or schnapps is drunk in a gulp – hence the small glasses – but because of its strength the drinker first takes a bite of some food, preferably something with herring. If a succession of glassfuls are to be served, it is permitted to ‘bite’ the second drink in half, the third in three; in other words, to spread out the tot.
A ritual is attached to the saying of ‘skol’ with schnapps: drinkers raise glasses, look into each other’s eyes and sometimes link arms. The procedure varies according to the country but although, at a dinner, the hostess may ‘skol’ all the guests or a guest in particular, the guests must never ‘skol’ her – as otherwise she would have to drink separately with each of them! The traditional chaser for schnapps is lager, but it is such a clean spirit that it may be served before a meal when wine is to follow.