In Food + Drink

Outback Viking: Australia Now Has Its Own Aquavit

In the year since launching, Never Never Distilling Co. has gone from strength to strength. Their punchy, juniper-forward gins can now be found at many of the nation’s best bars (as can Director of Sales & Marketing Sean Baxter) but their latest release has no juniper at all. It was hatched over drinks at Sydney bar PS40 with the bar’s co-owner and soda wizard Thor Bergquist, who wanted to collaborate on an aquavit.

When Baxter shared the plan with distiller Tim Boast, his first response was “What’s aquavit?” The natural response was to engage in a healthy amount of research and development.

“We drank a lot of different styles of aquavit and though it’s very different from gin, it has a profile that works quite well with native botanicals,” Baxter confirms, and just like that the team had found their next project.

Water of life

The ancient Scandinavian spirit swaps out juniper for caraway as the defining botanical, alongside a range of flavours like dill, fennel and coriander. The result is an herbaceous spirit with a delicious savoury zing that’s made it a favourite among more adventurous bartenders.

Though aquavit pairs well with many drinks, using it in cocktails is a relatively recent innovation. Traditionally it was drunk neat with food, where its unusual botanicals are well suited to pairing with Nordic staples like salted and pickled seafood, fatty meats and pungent cheeses. Those associations may not have helped aquavit’s popularity, but a new generation of drinkers and distillers are beginning to discover this clean, crisp and surprisingly versatile spirit.

Going native

Never Never aren’t the first Australian distillery to make aquavit – Sin Gin beat them to the punch – but they are the first to make use of native botanicals to create a signature Australian flavour.

“When we make gin, we make gin with juniper and that was always the mantra – but when we’re not making gin, that opens us up to experiment a little bit,” Baxter says.

A big part of that was working with the native botanicals that didn’t fit the profile of their gins. Starting with a wheat spirit, they added dill, fennel and caraway before departing with tradition. From a list of 12 botanicals, the two teams based in Adelaide and Sydney worked remotely to narrow the list down before PS40’s other co-owner Michael Chiem flew down to Adelaide for a day to work on the final product.

Of the botanicals they decided to include, cinnamon myrtle provides a spicy earthiness and strawberry gum imparts a sense of lightness. There’s also riberry for a rich fruitiness and macadamia rounds it out with a bit of oiliness and nuttiness. The result is a blend of old world and new, and was christened Stockholm Syndrome.

It’s a nod to the drink of that name that was on PS40’s original cocktail list, as well as an acknowledgement that they’ve been inspired by the Swedish style of aquavit. That means bright flavours and a hint of anise, which makes for a far more approachable drink than the barrel-aged Norwegian style that is usually distilled from potatoes.

Soda or skål

The image of Scandinavians shouting skål and knocking back a shot of aquavit is an enduring one, but this is a spirit crafted to be savoured rather than slammed. And so once the aquavit was distilled, the action moved to Sydney as PS40 went to work creating a new soda specifically designed to drink with Stockholm Syndrome.

Baxter is full of respect for Chiem and Berquist, and isn’t shy about showing it. “They’re really gifted when it comes to matching flavours and the cocktails that they make are some of the most unique and delightful drinks in the country.”

Outback Viking is certainly deserving of both adjectives, an effervescent concoction of cumin seed, dill, apple cider vinegar, lemon zest and Murray River salt that bursts with refreshment. Baxter simply describes it as “absolutely mind I’m blowing.”

It sits alongside PS40’s other craft sodas including Smoked Lemonade, Wattle Cola and Bush Tonic with Peruvian cinchona bark, native lemongrass and lemon myrtle, and their Smoked Lemonade. They’re all available at the bar, and after a long absence they’re once again joined by the Stockholm Syndrome cocktail, this time with an Australian twist.

Stockholm Syndrome is part of Never Never’s dark label series and the limited run is available now at a handful of bars in Sydney, Melbourne Brisbane and Adelaide

Published 21 September, 2018