The Swedish Spirit

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Much can be said about a country based on the types of spirits and alcohol bevarages that are produced, drunk and seen abroad. Japan has its famous sake, Russia its vodka, and the word whisky undoubtedly brings Scotland to mind. For most spirits/drink/alchols or whatever term you might prefer, there are a wide range of countries that produce essentially the same product. There are distilleries not only in Russia, but also Finland, Poland and even the US, all producing different brand named drinks referred to as vodka. Beer is another such products where a guestimate of the number of brands and region specific products would surely bring it well into the thousands.

Yet in some cases a type of alcohol can be specifically unique for a region. Take sake as an example. The Japanese version is hardly the only rice wine produced in Asia but it is seen as something uniquely indipendent from similar spirits from China, Korea or Nepal, and encompasses all rice wine produced within Japan. So, what gives? As a non connoisseur of these type of bevarages it would seem that much of it lies in the manufacturing process or area.


The most famous example is probably Champagne. In essence it is a sprakling wine produced in the Champagne district of France, using grapes from specific vinyards. The title “Champagne” is only bestowed upon these specific regionally made products using a certain manufacturing process, even though sparkling wines are made worldwide. Even claiming to use the same process can be seen as infringing upon the Champagne-brand!


A similar example to the case of France’s Champagne is the Akvavit of Scandinavia. Basically a flavoured spirit with an alcohol by volume at around 40%, it is a protected title that only certain products manufactured according to Danish or Norwegian customs in Scandinavia are allowed to bear. This spirit, commonly referred to by Swedes as brännvin (which is also what products not allowed to bear the Akvavit title are called), is commonly drunk during festivities involving copious amounts of food.


Keeping away from the whole discussion about Akvavit vs. brännvin and just sticking to the broader term, brännvin used to refer to all types of spirits. Nowdays it is mostly though of as spirits with a Nordic flare, the Akvavit or other flavoured strong spirits. The process of making brännvin usually implements spices or herbs such as anies, wormwood, fennel, dill and caraway (cumin) in different combinations for flavouring.


In Sweden brännvin is typically enjoyed during the food festivities of crayfish parties, christmas or midsummer. Of course it varies greatly between families and local customs, but the commonly accepted image of how these festivities are conducted is with brännvin close at hand, often in many flavours, poured into small glasses and drunk as snaps. Dispersed between bouts of munching on potatoes with dill, herring, meatballs and crayfish (dished varying between festivity) a short song is sung in honour of the impending consumption of brännvin, and then drunk. Of course it works well to be enjoyed in other situations as well, but at is is quite potent it’s not recommended to drink on an empty stomach!