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.
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.
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:
- Krogstad from Portland, Oregon
- North Shore from Chicago
- Gamle Ode from Minneapolis
- 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.