On the House is Eater's column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and others in the hospitality industry who make our favorite establishments tick. Today, Parker Ramey of Trillium talks about creating the restaurant's house-made Akvavit program
Because of the Scandinavian influences at Trillium, Akvavit (or Aquavit depending on where you are on the peninsula) has always been a big part of our bar program. From a light rinse in our signature Trillium Cocktail, to signature Akvavit-based cocktails like the Thor's Hammer (an Akvavit Old-Fashioned), The Root of All Evil and Good (a pair of cocktails based, respectively, in red- and golden-beet infused Akvavit), or the Fenn and Tonic (a play on the summer classic using fennel-infused Akvavit), to straight shots of our house-infused Akvavit flavors, our guests have been enjoying this spicy spirit the doors to the restaurant opened.
Akvavit is made in many different styles throughout Scandinavia. As a general rule, it starts as a grain-neutral or potato-based spirit (think vodka), and is then flavored with savory aromatics. Generally, caraway (think rye bread) is the predominant flavoring, but fennel, star anise, coriander, cumin, and even citrus peel are often added to enhance complexity.
Often, if not usually, made in small batches for local consumption, Akvavit can be a bracing, intensely savory dram (I have been known to refer to it as Viking-juice). Some distillers choose to age their Akvavit in oak barrels, softening the spirit. There is even a style called Linie, that travels for a year or more in oak barrels on ships that, by tradition, cross the equator (the 'Linie') twice, ensuring that the Akvavit has had sufficient time to lose its harshness.
To date, Trillium bought Akvavit from Scandinavian importers to use for our infusions, but with the increasing popularity of our Akvavit program, I began looking for a way to gain more control over the flavors and nuances the spirit offered. With some research, I found that beyond the large commercial brands of Akvavit available, many Scandinavians simply make their own, buying neutral spirits and adding their own blends of spices and flavorings, working with family recipes passed down for generations. This inspired me to start making my own Akvavit.
Creating Akvavit tailor-made to fit our restaurant and its flavors allows us to control a number of factors. We can ensure that our base spirit is a quality one- often Scandinavian Akvavit is made from little better than moonshine, and even the larger Scandinavian distillers are not particularly known for their excellent distilling techniques. The wide array of quality spirits available in this country allows me to choose a base for our Akvavit that is carefully and properly distilled. We can also balance the spicing of the Akvavit to fit our own flavor preferences and ensure that only the freshest of spices are used, rather than flavorings or extracts. Lastly, we can adjust the spicing recipe to fit each individual house infusion, upping the herbaceous notes for more savory flavors (say, Basil Peppercorn), the spice notes for more sweet ones (say, Carrot Cake), or pull them all back for the more fruity ones (say, Watermelon or Strawberry).
Fortunately, the infusion time for creating Akvavit is relatively short and I hope to launch a new series of house-made Akvavit infusions within a couple of weeks. As summer approaches, I'm looking forward to all of the fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs available. Keep an eye out for an ongoing seasonal series of Akvavits (we currently have a "Primavera," using fresh spring veggies like peas, asparagus and, spring garlic; I expect "Été" will be a blend of fresh summer peaches, cherries, strawberries and the like). "Watermelon" will certainly make a comeback, as will "Strawberry Peppercorn." "Basil" of course comes to mind, as does "Mojito," and I can't wait for "Sweet Corn."