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Grier notes another major change he’s seen in the later half of the ’10s, “For some brands it's just a side project, but a few — like Gamle Ode, Rolling River, and Norden — are really making it their focus or their whole business.”

Barriers to mainstream Despite its growth, aquavit still faces some barriers in the American market. “In Scandinavia, this is a neat spirit. This is something you drink with food. You drink with a cold beer. There’s a cultural disconnect,” Cleveland said. (Spirits and food pairings are another oft-cited trend that has failed to truly take off.) Grier is quick to point out the effect of Americans’ preference for cocktails or mixed drinks. “One difference between the US and Scandinavian countries is that we tend to use aquavit primarily as a cocktail ingredient. It's catching on that way in Nordic countries too, but there they have more appreciation for it as a spirit to enjoy straight.” He sees an opportunity though. “One thing that would help a lot is if a particular aquavit cocktail were to take off in popularity. I keep hoping that the aquavit Negroni will take that role, but it hasn't happened yet!” “If you look at the Savoy Cocktail Book...not a single one calls for aquavit,” Cleveland said. He echoed Grier’s search for something easy to latch onto, “...classic, easy one-step or two-step cocktails. I think that’s what we’re missing with the aquavit category.” He’s tried quite a few. Tonic water, lemon soda, and ginger beer are among his favorites. Miller has seen more aquavit cocktails appearing on menus in recent years, which afford bartenders an opportunity to educate consumers. However, these efforts thus far have been unable to leverage the heightened level of consumer knowledge about botanical spirits engendered by the gin renaissance. “I think it could ride gin's massive wave if education were to the level of helping consumers understand this is

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a sister — very similar but with a different range of botanicals. But I don't necessarily see that happening, much as I've tried to write and educate via tastings that way over the years.” “Another problem with the category is language barriers,” Cleveland said. “I’ve noticed a lot of brands trying to really go heavy with the Nordic sounding names. That might be slowing them down a little bit.” When he was coming up with the name for his aquavit, he worked hard to balance paying respect to Nordic culture, while keeping the everyday consumer in mind. “We were really careful in choosing a Nordic word that was easy to pronounce.”

Opportunities, in a space where education isn’t required While gin is an obvious comparison point, other spirits have entered the American market and managed to cultivate a following through consumer education. Grier pointed to the rise of mezcal. Miller sees similarities in the success of Pisco. Cleveland noted, however, “a lot of Scandinavian brands have spent millions of dollars trying to push the category forward.” And yet — here we are. However, there are pockets where education isn’t a barrier. “It's an especially popular choice for distillers in places that have historically Scandinavian populations and interest in Scandinavian culture,” said Grier. “So Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota are unsurprisingly three of the states where you see the most producers making it.” Cleveland agreed. “Not only are they great cocktail towns, there’s also high concentrations of people with Nordic heritage. It’s an easy situation to introduce it. You don’t have to do the deep education

Top 5 States

Residents with Scandinavian Ancestry By population

By percent of population

(rounded to nearest 10k)

Norwegian Minnesota 

(780k)

Minnesota  (13.7%)

Wisconsin 

(410k)

Montana 

(8.3%)

California

(350k)

Wisconsin 

(7.0%)

Washington 

(350k)

Iowa

(4.6%)

Illinois

(150k)

Washington  (4.5%)

Swedish Minnesota 

(410k)

Minnesota  (7.2%)

California

(330k)

Nebraska 

(3.9%)

Illinois

(240k)

Utah 

(3.3%)

Washington

(200k)

Idaho 

(2.9%)

Wisconsin 

(140k)

Montana 

(2.7%)

Finnish Minnesota 

(100k)

Minnesota  (1.8%)

Michigan 

(90k)

Michigan 

Washington 

(50k)

Washington (<1%)

California 

(50k)

Wisconsin

(<1%)

Wisconsin

(40k)

Montana 

(<1%)

(<1%)

Danish California

(150k)

Utah

(4.7%)

Utah 

(150k)

Nebraska 

(2.1%)

Minnesota 

(60k)

Idaho 

(1.9%)

Washington 

(60k)

Iowa 

(1.4%)

Wisconsin 

(50k)

Minnesota

(1.1%)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2019. 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates [Table B04006].

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Profile for Artisan Spirit Magazine

Artisan Spirit: Spring 2021  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Spring 2021  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

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