What Happened to O.P. Anderson Aquavit?

Before I moved to New York from Minnesota, I could go into almost any Twin Cities liquor store and see at least three aquavit brands: one Danish, one Norwegian, and one Swedish. If it was a well stocked shop, there might be a two kinds of the Danish brand Aalborg and two or three Swedish brands. One of those Swedish aquavit brands was O.P. Anderson. In New York, I was pleased to find much the same situation at Astor Wines & Spirits. They stocked just about everything that a good Twin Cities shop had and even labeled a whole shelf section Aquavit, right between Vodka and Gin.

O.P. AndersonBut then something changed. About five years ago, all the Swedish brands disappeared from the shelves without warning. Suddenly there was no more O.P. Anderson, no more Herrgårds or Skåne.

I was reminded of O.P. Anderson when a friend mentioned he’d seen a couple of old bottles in a Minneapolis liquor store. “Buy them!” I said (he did, and at a mere $20 each after tax). They must have been sitting there since 2007. So what happened?

This is a long story, so before I get into the details, I’ll summarize it: O.P. Anderson was owned by the Swedish liquor company that owned Absolut and has changed hands a couple of times. It’s now owned by Altia, a Finnish company.

Now the details: In March 2008, liquor giant Pernod Ricard bought Absolut Vodka’s parent company, Vin & Sprit AB (V&S), for $8.34 billion. Pernod was battling rivals Diageo (the biggest liquor giant of all dropped out when it formed a partnership with Ketel One), Bacardi, and Beam Global for Absolut. The deal closed in July 2008. Pernod Ricard then divided the Sweden-based V&S business into two units, one for Absolut and one called Pernod Ricard Nordic for all the local Scandinavian brands. Two of those brands were O.P. Anderson and Skåne Akvavit.

It was around this time—2008—that O.P. Anderson disappeared from American shelves. It’s a safe bet that Absolut, er, Pernod Ricard Nordic, decided to save money by halting the importation of its smaller Swedish brands to the U.S.

Two years later, in February 2010, Altia Corporation, a liquor company owned by the Finnish government, acquired some Nordic brands from Pernod Ricard, including O. P. Anderson and Skåne Akvavit.

I reached out to Altia to see if they had any plans to bring O.P. Anderson back and got a reply from Mats Nilsson, their commercial director for travel, retail and export.

“The reason that export didn’t continue was simply [because volume was too low] and not really worth it,” he said in an e-mail. “For us to re-launch O.P. Anderson in the U.S. again we would have [to have] a plan of volume and investment where we can see that there is a good opportunity.”

That makes sense, but I would argue that now there is a good opportunity. Think about this: there are currently more American aquavit brands in the U.S. market than there are Scandinavian ones:

  1. Krogstad from Portland, Oregon
  2. North Shore from Chicago
  3. Gamle Ode from Minneapolis
  4. Sound Spirits from Seattle

And at least two of those, Krogstad and Gamle Ode, believe in the market enough to launch more than one style of aquavit.

For imports, we have only Linie and Aalborg left in the market. It makes one wonder how much of the surge in American aquavits had to do with the disappearance of Scandinavian brands. And how much potential O.P. Anderson and others might have in re-entering the U.S. market.

On a related note, those Swedish brands weren’t the only ones Pernod Ricard got in the V&S deal. Aalborg, the Danish brand, was also part of it. In the middle of last year, Pernod Ricard announced that it was selling off more Nordic brands, this time to Arcus Gruppen, the Norwegian liquor company that owns Linie Aquavit. The $126 million deal included Aalborg and another Danish aquavit brand, Brøndums, along with the Danish bitter Gammel Dansk and a German aquavit brand called Malteserkreuz.

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13 Responses to What Happened to O.P. Anderson Aquavit?

  1. Pingback: Bäska Snaps: Internationally Bitter | cocktails & cologne

  2. Paula says:

    Im looking to import Aquavits to Mexico, do you have any recommendations? Thanks!

  3. Caroline Thermaenius says:

    My late husband Lars Thermaenius(Swedish) was born and raised in Ahus, Sweden the home of Absolut Vodka. When he moved to the USA in 1969 he brought with him all his traditions, including all kind.s of aquavit.It is very difficult to celebrate Midsommor, and Christmas Eve, without all those wonderful drinks.,now that he cant bring them over from Sweden. I have lost touch with friends over there and I know many people who would love to have them available in this country.I really hope this happens. Sincerely Caroline Thermaenius,Norway,Maine

  4. Lefty Swede says:

    It’s a sad day when the Swedes can’t get their genuine aquavit supply. My Stockholm born wife is quite upset.
    The US made stuff just doesn’t cut the mustard. Hard to imagine gravlax without a good Herrgård

    • Agreed. And now the Danish aquavits are in short supply as well, at least until the new distribution deals get sorted out after Arcus’s purchase of Aalborg earlier this year.

      Which American aquavits have you tried? You may like Gamle Ode’s Celebration aquavit — it’s a more traditional, aged style (although by traditional, I mean traditional Danish). Another possible winner could be Krogstad’s Gamle Aquavit. It’s aged in oak nearly a year.

  5. I had a bottle of OP Andersson from Astoria a few years back. I’m NOR from my Mom’s side and we’d always have a bottle around the holidays. I’m the lone buyer of Linie from the local store, and will pick up the inferior Aalborg when pressed.

  6. Dan Updike says:

    This article clears up a few mysteries for me as to why the supply chain has changed. BTW, at the moment Aalborg is not available in New York.

  7. V Danielsen says:

    I have not been able to find “red Aalborg” taffel akvavit anywhere. I am told it is not being imported into the US. Any truth to that?

    • Thanks for the comment. I’ve been meaning to do a “What Happened to Aalborg?” post, because, sadly, we’re in a very similar situation now. Aalborg’s Jubilæums aquavit has been absent from NYC shelves for years now and the Taffel aquavit started to disappear last year. I sent an e-mail to Aalborg via their website in August 2013 and finally got a reply in October:

      “The Gammel Dansk and Aalborg brands was sold off by Pernod Ricard back in January 2013 and as a result, they also stopped distribution worldwide. Norwegian company Arcus acquired the brands and they are now in the process of getting distribution partners in many different countries – including the US and Canada.

      “The partner in your region is a company called Kobrand and our best guess is, that they will resume distribution in early 2014 – depending on some approvals that is needed in order to import spirits into the US.”

      So there we go. We were *supposed* to get Aalborg back by now. Arcus owns Linie aquavit and Kobrand is their importer/distributor, but Aalborg is not yet listed on their site as part of the portfolio.

      In the meantime, I’d encourage all Aalborg Taffel fans to seek out Iceland’s Brennivin. It’s excellent, and it’s being imported to the U.S. for the first time. I wrote about it here: https://cocktailsandcologne.com/2014/05/31/brennivin-the-first-new-scandinavian-aquavit-to-hit-the-u-s-in-years/. You can find it online at DrinkUpNY: http://www.drinkupny.com/Brennivin_Icelandic_Aquavit_p/s1448.htm for about $33 a liter. The other bit of good news is that there are a lot more American aquavits out there now. For a dill twist on aquavit, try Gamle Ode Dill. For a more anise-forward type, try Krogstad. Out of Chicago, North Shore makes a great one that adds cumin to the botanical mix. And for an aged American aquavit, Gamle Ode Celebration is fantastic. It’s very traditional is the best possible way.

  8. Curt says:

    YES, it is a sad time, I not only miss O.P. Andersson but most of all I miss Gamel Dansk! But I am also old (Gamel) I go to Northern Europe & Scandinavia on occasion and manage to bring back some. I only hope the situation might change

  9. Harvey says:

    Is there any way to buy the Swedish aqvavits from abroad and have them shipped to a US address for personal use, paying all the required customs etc?

  10. Make friends with Swedish Consultants who travel to and from Svierge!

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