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Dear Drink: Linie Aquavit

An open letter to the Linie Aquavit at Doyle's Public House

LINIE AQUAVIT: Its aroma is fairly subtle, but with definite notes of anise, caraway, spearmint, and quite a bit of alcohol.

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Dear Aquavit,

I'm a little disappointed in you. After hours of driving around Tacoma, making phone calls from icy street corners, receiving blank stares and a few laughs, when I finally found you at Doyle's Public House, there were no bells. There were no alarms or whistles or charming notifiers, no clowns or sparklers or strippers, not even a measly congratulatory phone call from owner Russ Heaton offering me a free Hans Wehner chair, a trip to Copenhavn and a lifetime supply of Spunk (the candy!). There was no toaster oven. No plaque. There was no giftage whatsoever - unless you count the lovelies pouring your caraway flavor into my glass.

You see, Aquavit, or should I call you Akvavit, as you are known in Danmark? I searched for hours looking for you. Nobody knows who the hell you are. Apparently, bars don't want you. Many bartenders don't know you exist. Besides 1022 South and Tacoma Cabana, Doyle's is the only other bar that gives a lort about you - that's Dansk for shit. I know. I spent a semester at the Københavns Universitet studying Economics. I have the Tuborg beer bottle opener to prove it.

Even sadder news - if a dude named Jeff Smith didn't beg Doyle's to bring you in, you wouldn't be enjoying the non-stop soccer matches from the Stadium District watering hole as you do today.

Ah-fer-geez. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you sob like Hans Christian Andersen. I apologize, Aquavit.

Hey! You're Scandinavian. The Vikings cured the misery associated with the long winter months with equal amounts of raping and pillaging, with mugs of grog and hearty belly laughs in between. Times have changed somewhat - the first two pursuits will deservedly land you in jail, and the alcoholic menu has diversified as you know - but hearty belly laughs still ring through. I have a Norwegian joke for you.

A Norwegian man wants a job, but the foreman won't hire him until he passes a little math test.

FOREMAN: Here's your first question. Without using numbers, represent the number 9.

NORWEGIAN: Without numbers?  Dat is easy.

(He proceeds to draw three trees.)

FOREMAN: What's this?

NORWEGIAN: Ave you got no brain?  Tree and tree and tree make nine.

FOREMAN: Fair enough.  Here's your second question.  Use the same rules, but this time the number is 99.

(The Norwegian stares into space for a while, and then he picks up the picture that he just drew and makes a smudge on each tree.)

FOREMAN: How on earth do you get that to represent 99?

NORWEGIAN: Each of da trees is dirty now.  So, it's dirty tree, and dirty tree, and dirty tree.  Dat is 99.

FOREMAN: All right, last question. Same rules again, but represent the number 100.

(The Norwegian stares into space some more, and then he picks up the picture again and makes a little mark at the base of each tree.)

FOREMAN: You must be nuts if you think that represents 100!

(The Norwegian leans forward and points to the marks at the base of each tree.)

NORWEGIAN: A little dog came along and crap by each tree.  So now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, dat make one hundred. So, when I start?

Ha ha ha that's a good one, huh Aquavit?

Look, there's no reason to be sad. Hell, your name means "the water of life." That's cool. And you're a high-powered spirit - 42 percent to 45 percent alcohol by volume. Like vodka, you're a distilled potato spirit. Unlike vodka, you typically are flavored with caraway and other herbs like dill and coriander, or sometimes cumin, cardamom and fennel. You're usually served ice-cold, straight from the freezer, although it can be used in cocktails as well. For some mixologists, Aquavit, you're their secret weapon in a perfect Bloody Mary. That's cool, right?

I see you're from the Linie Aquavit lineage, which is the popular Norwegian Aquavit. To me, you're much smoother than the Aalborg Akvavits. Your caraway flavor takes on a slightly-sweet character. You seem better balanced to me than most. And the back label of each bottle of Linie Aquavit tells a special story: Since 1805, Linie has been aged in the holds of Norwegian sailing ships, stored in used sherry casks. It is said that the Aquavit sloshing around in these casks at sea matures and mellows it. At any rate, the label of each bottle of Linie Aquavit carries the details of its four-and-a-half months at sea, including the date it departed Norway, the date it returned after crossing the equator and the name of the ship it sailed upon. Skal!

Yes, there are many who claim you should be renamed "the water of death." It's true. Aquavit, no matter how you spell your name, you are most definitely an acquired taste. Most people I know who've ever tasted Aquavit have only done so once. But, remember, the folks who like you are the same folks who dine on rakfisk (fermented trout), smalahove (smoked lamb's head), pickled herring and whale meat. Who am I to argue with the notion that a caraway-flavored, vodka-like spirit wouldn't pair nicely with a tournedo of whale in dill sauce?

Sometimes you just have to let possibility breathe. Sometimes you just have to allow that something grand and good might actually be born from caraway-infused spirits stored in sherry casks tumbling in the bowels of a dank ship, like flowers from a dung heap, like vodka from old potatoes.

I'm not disappointed in you, Aquavit. I'm disappointed in myself for my selfish thinking.  If I had a toaster oven, I'd give it to you.

Skal to you Aquavit!

Ron Swarner


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