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Crossing the Line
By Trish Smith
12 October 2010





Every country or culture has its strange food that you have to try, even if it’s just so you can tick it off your list of Crazy Things To Do Before I Die or have a humorous story to tell next time there’s an awkward lull in the conversation at dinner with the in-laws. When I was travelling in Thailand there were numerous opportunities to taste the local cuisine being prepared in street carts, but the thought of spending the rest of my trip grappling with the inconvenience of an ‘upset tummy’ convinced me to stick to food prepared in conventional kitchens. Like, in hotels and restaurants. Adventurous? No. Sensible? I like to think so.

In Norway they eat reindeer and elk and smoked or dried or pickled fish and salmon a hundred different ways. And they eat a lot of cheese that comes in various disturbing shades of brown. I tried all of these things and enjoyed them without developing any unsociable side-effects, so I had to look a bit harder to find something that might be a little dangerous.

Not surprisingly, I found it behind the bar in my hotel.


Aquavit.

Aquavit (or “akevitt” in Norwegian) is a liquor, quite a bit like vodka, with an alcohol volume of around 41%. Norwegians, Danes and Swedes all drink it, but it is mostly known as a Norwegian drink. I had read about it on Wikipedia – it is traditionally drunk at Christmas as a celebration drink. Confirmation of this came from Runar, the Norwegian barman, when I asked him why it wasn’t enjoyed the rest of the year. He said, and I quote, “it’s not that good.”


Linie Aquavit

There is a well-known brand of this little-known drink called Linie Aquavit, which is brewed in 500L Oak casks that had formerly been used for brewing sherry in Spain, which are then loaded onto a ship and transported to the equator (the “linie” or “linje”) which they cross before looping around Australia, back up past Asia, then across the Pacific back to the Panama Canal, then home to Oslo, an immense voyage that takes 19 weeks. Apparently the combination of time spent at sea, the fluctuations in temperature and the constant motion of the ship produces the best Aquavit. The date of departure and arrival back in Oslo, as well as the name of the ship, is written on the bottle.

In the interests of thorough research I tried four different brands of aquavit – Taffel Aquavit, Gammel Opland, Linie Aquavit and one other that must have been the fourth because by then I had lost my pen. And forgotten my name.

Runar insisted I do what the Norwegians do which is to drink aquavit with a beer chaser. I asked him, hopefully, if he had some light beer. He held up two empty glasses – one pint and one that looked like it might hold about 200ml. He put the smaller one on the bar, smiled, and said “this is our light beer.”

Aquavit tastes a lot like vodka. They are both distilled from potatoes or grain, but aquavit is known for its aniseed flavour, thanks to the use of anise or fennel. Caraway, cumin and cardamom are also used. Linie Aquavit was the darkest in colour, having been brewed longer and in those Spanish sherry casks. I think my favourite was the Linie Aquavit, it appealed to the World Traveller in me. On my list of Crazy Things To Do Before Die is stow away on a Linie Aquavit ship. I wonder if they let you do that?
 

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Keywords: immense, light, lost, Taste, Wonder, Oslo


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