Aquavit is notoriously difficult to mix. Maybe it shouldn’t be — it’s not so far off from gin — but ask your average cocktail enthusiast for the name of a good aquavit cocktail and he or she might pause and say, “Hmm. Bloody Mary?”
We’re still trying to figure it out. And while almost all aquavit has caraway in common, there’s a fair amount of diversity in flavor profiles, which can make it even more difficult: what may work with one brand of aquavit may be a disaster in another.
The first modern classic to emerge among aquavit cocktails is surely the Trident — Robert Hess’s Negroni-like concoction of aquavit, dry sherry, Cynar, and peach bitters. For the second modern classic, I nominate the Old Bay Ridge by cocktail historian David Wondrich.
Like the Trident, the Old Bay Ridge is a twist on a classic, in this case the humble Old Fashioned. It’s a simple drink but the combination of flavors is so perfect and harmonious that you almost wonder if there are more ingredients in there. It’s one part rye whiskey, one part aged aquavit, and a dash of Angostura bitters with a sugar cube. It’s the kind of simple combination that makes you think there are perfect partners for every odd spirit. But how does one find them?
I asked Wondrich via Twitter how he came up with the combination of rye and aquavit and his answer made me laugh: “Levy’s Jewish rye bread, seeded with caraway. An NYC childhood staple of the 1970s.” Of course! Caraway and rye.
Levy’s Jewish Rye bread is probably most famous for its 1957 ad campaign, “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye.” It was conceived by the legendary Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency, and it showed various non-Jewish people eating Levy’s Jewish Rye.
Wondrich uses Linie aquavit, the caraway-forward Norwegian brand aged in barrels that are carried by ship across the equator twice. I’m not sure what brand of rye he uses but I’ll wager it’s Rittenhouse Bonded Rye, the 100 proof stuff.
I’ve been making Old Bay Ridge cocktails for the last week and I can’t get enough of them. The rye and sugar mellows the caraway, making it a great Old Fashioned variation to sip.
Old Bay Ridge
1oz Linie Aquavit
1oz Rittenhouse Rye
Dash of Angostura Bitters
1 Sugar Cube
Build the cocktail in a lowball or rocks glass. Muddle the sugar cube with two dashes of bitters and add the spirits. Stir to disolve the sugar and add ice; stir again until cold, about 30 seconds. Discard the ice. If you’re serving the drink with ice, add a large ice cube or ice sphere once the cocktail has been chilled (you want to minimize the dilution at this point). If you’d like a garnish, try a lemon peel or orange peel.
I’m looking for more great aquavit cocktails. Know of any you think qualify as modern classics? Or any new aquavit cocktails that you think will (or should) endure?