Vodka Vs Aquavit, What’s the Difference?

Vodka vs Aquavit

There’s a wide variety of spirits to mix, mash, and mend into your favorite cocktails. A lot of alcohols could be used synonymously; they could even use similar ingredients and production processes. If we narrow it down to vodka and aquavit, they’re no different.. right?

Let’s first pin down what each of these alcohols are:

What’s vodka?

I suggest you check out the previous article written by yours truly, which will answer this in detail, but I digress. At its bare bones minimum, vodka is a clear distilled alcohol, generally made from grains or potatoes. We’ve established in a previous article that this spirit came from either Poland or Russia, but ultimately its origin stories are long lost to the sands of time. Nowadays, it’s produced and drunk worldwide. There’s many versions of this alcohol with lots of different ingredients such as lemon peel, buffalo grass, berries, and caraway. To really simplify this spirit, any liquor made from agricultural ethanol and water could be called vodka. That said, this alcohol is much less regulated when compared to other spirits, which means it could be made from a vast variety of grains and vegetables.

Beyond its birthplace, and finding this liquor almost anywhere across the planet, there’s two main styles of vodka, Eastern and Western (see also ‘Best Russian Vodka‘). Now to contradict what you’ve just read, these names really just refer to technique rather than place of production. Eastern style, otherwise known as “craft vodkas” retain the flavoring of their base ingredients. Western-style vodka is much more filtered, which gives it a cleaner and noticeably greater neutral flavor when compared.

What’s aquavit?

With a name derived from Latin, meaning “water of life,” this is a Scandinavian spirit made with a very similar distilling process as vodka. Similarly, it’s distilled with potatoes and grains just like vodka, and could even come out colorless. Aquavit is commonly infused with caraway and/or dill. This spirit is characterized by its licorice, herb, spice, and citrus tones. Herbaceous with a hint of rye could be the flavorful notes of this alcohol.

Aquavit is not commonly barrel-aged which makes it colorless. I did mention some notes you might taste when drinking this spirit, but it is generally neutral just like vodka when we talk about background flavor.

This alcohol is also made all over the world and could have some key distinctions depending on the region of its production. While caraway and dill remain the common denominator, different areas it’s made come with a wide variety of spices used! You could enjoy aquavit either plain or in cocktails; you’d love the former of the two if you’re big on rye bread.

  • Danish aquavit is grain based with a fennel flavor.
  • Norwegian is usually potato based with a cumin or citrus profile. They even age their version which gives it a woody undertone and mellowness.
  • Swedish aquavit is a grain based make with notable anise and fennel notes.
  • America and Canada also age their aquavit in barrels. We don’t really have a signature flavor here in the states, but we enjoy it all the same.

Do you notice a pattern? Almost all true aquavit comes from Scandinavian countries!

How are they alike? What about differences?

We’ve pretty much established their similarities, so let’s summarize: they’re both made by distilling fermented potato mash or grains. They could both be colorless, neutral in flavor, and could be used synonymously in some cocktails. So what makes them different? In a nutshell, aquavit is just a spiced vodka. You could expect the spirit to go down the same as vodka or gin, but it’ll have a dominating caraway flavor. If you’re feeling real ambitious, aquavit can be made at home with some vodka, dill, lemon, and a few months of time (don’t worry, a lot of this is letting the spirit sit).

An honorable mention to gin

We cannot go without mentioning gin because it’s also a clear, distilled liquor that gets shuffled in and confused with the two we’re talking about. Just like aquavit having a heavy rye flavor, gin is could taste of juniper berries and other aromatics derived from the likes. Some would argue that all three of these liquors are simply vodka, but I would argue that those people have lost their spirit (pun intended).

What about recipes?

As I’ve mentioned, you could use vodka and aquavit synonymously. You’d obviously use one or the other depending on the outcome of the flavor profile you want to get. If you’re drinking one of them straight and on a keto diet (see also ‘Is Tequila Keto?‘), vodka has a lot of zeros in its nutrient facts (usually flavorless too just like most diet foods, and no, ethanol isn’t a flavor). A lot of spirit buffs would do this if they’re searching for a bolder flavor that their gin, vodka, or even whiskey cannot deliver. Try using this in your White Russian or Bloody Mary next time you’re looking for a savory kick!

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Previous Post: The Strange History of Gin

December 9, 2022 - In Gin

Next Post: The Benefits of Aquavit

December 10, 2022 - In Aquavit

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