From Vikings to little mermaids, the Danes are known for more than just breakfast pastry. Keeping in mind that Denmark is the birthplace of Lager beer, it is a safe assumption that Danes know how to enjoy themselves. In Copenhagen, most bars have a happy hour affectionately known as “Double Up.” Back when I was at the London School of Economics, I ventured north on my first trip to Denmark’s legendary capital. I soon learned that “Hygge” is an essential ingredient to the Danish way of life. The translation is “forgetting daily problems and enjoying the simple things in life.” Rich in history, and wonderful people who enjoy a less stressful way of life, it is no wonder that most surveys conclude Denmark to be “the happiest place in the world.”
“Don’t forget the savory brunch,” Alana was quick to add.
“I agree,” my eyes crinkled into a soft smile.” “As you well know, I often eat here.”
“I remembered,” Alana motioned for our server to bring over a dish. “Especially for you.”
“Aebleskiver,” I exclaimed with delight. “My absolute favorite!”
This delectable pastry translates as apple slices. In essence, it is a traditional Danish pancake. It is somewhat similar to an American pancake crossed with a popover. It is light and fluffy, and quite delicious. In the States they are sold commercially as “Pancake Puffs.”
“In California, I often visit a city named Solvang. The Danish restaurants in the area boast that their aebleskiver is the best statewide. My nephew, Austin, would often accompany on these jaunts for the aebleskiver alone.”
The name Akvavit is derived from Latin, “aqua vitae,” or “water of life.” The word whiskey is derived from Goidelic or Gaelic. Likewise, clear fruit brandy in France is called “eau de vie,” or “water of life.” Of particular interest to wine enthusiasts, an apocryphal story holds that Akvavit actually means “water from the vine.” Now that I have your interest, Akvavit is simply a Scandinavian spirit produced from either grain or potatoes. However, there is a distinct flavor due to the addition of spices and herbs. Typically caraway or dill is favored, and the alcohol content is 40 per cent.
Our first selection was Aalborg Extra Akvavit. This is a rich, mild, golden-colored luxury spirit that is celebrated amongst the Danes. It is by far the most popular export brand of Akvavit in the world.
“My father always started and ended his day with a glass of Akvavit,” Alana smiled in fond reflection.
“I like this Akvavit very much,” I paused to savor the spirit. “It is elegant in mouth feel, with a few simple aromas. Dill is encountered in the refined company of coriander, the prime characteristic of this pure and fruity liqueur.
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“Overall, our Akvavit is nicely rounded with a piquant burnt quality suggestive of,” Alana paused lightly, “Caramel.”
“Alana, with what dishes would you serve Akvavit?” I queried.
“It is an excellent pairing with fish,” she paused lightly for effect. “Fried fish in particular. Pickled duck or chicken with a full-bodied white sauce.”
Our next spirit was a Heering Cherry Liqueur. It is made from the small small dark Stevns Cherry which thrives on the long ripening period of Denmark’s cool Nordic climate. The cherries are harvested in August and the juice is crushed together with the pits. This gives Heering its characteristic hint of almond. Next a secret combination of of spices that has been in the Heering family since 1818 is added. Finally, everything is poured into great casks to mature for a minimum of three years.
“Heering is generally considered one of the very best cherry brandies,” Alana smiled softly. I adore the strong cherry taste, especially when I want an aperitif.”
“What is the alcohol content?”
“I believe 24 per cent, “ Alana replied. “I think you will find it a trifle too sweet for your palate.”
“I found there was a definite taste of cherry in the forefront, but beyond that I got a distinct wine-like flavor,” I paused to collect my thoughts. “I would say the flavor was reminiscent of sweet vermouth, followed by a mild burn.”
“I know that most barmen prefer to use Heering’s when mixing cocktails,” Alana paused slightly. “Most believe that you can’t make a classic cocktail without this special cherry brandy.”
A huge smile filled my face. “Did you know that in 1915, Heering was used when the barman at the legendary Raffles Hotel created the Singapore Sling?”
“The things you know,” she smiled heartily as she poured us another glass.
Our next selection was Kirsberry, another Danish cherry brandy. Like Heering, Kirsberry, does not contain any artificial coloring or additives. However, Kirsberry is much different in style. Kirsberry follows a hundred year old family recipe that remains secret. On the nose, Kirsberry is deep and rich with syrupy notes. On the palate it just oozes cherries. The finish is sweet then sour cherry, with just a hint of plum skins towards the end. The golden chalice that adorns the bottle is a symbol of quality.
“I agree,” Alana flashed me an even smile. “Kirsberry is easy to drink and very smooth on the palate. It is big on cherries and I especially enjoy it mixed with tonic water.”
“What is the alcohol content?”
“Typically between 15-16 per cent,” Alana replied with a grin.
“You drink like Hercule Poirot,” I gave a hearty laugh.
“Who?” Alana queried.
“He was a Belgian sleuth in Agatha Christie novels,” I smiled in fond reflection. “He was also a connoisseur and gastronome.”
“Well, on that note, let’s order,” Alana playfully rubbed her belly. “I am famished.”
“But that my friends is a different story …”