Norwegian vodka and aquavit gain GI

Norwegian vodka and aquavit have both been given a geographical indication (GI) in the European Union, with regulations stipulating their physical appearance, alcoholic strength and production methods.

Pouring Aquavit into frosted glasses. Ready to celebrate Swedish midsummer

The European Commission added the Norwegian spirits to the EU GI register on 6 February.

Norwegian vodka must be “neutral” in character, as well as clear, transparent and colourless. It must be at least 37.5% ABV and be made from potatoes or grains, that are mashed, fermented and distilled in Norway.

For “historical reasons”, the materials used to make Norwegian vodka can be imported from overseas. However the brewing, distillation and post-distillation processes, apart from the dilution of the spirit with water, must take place within Norway.

The final bottled spirit must be between 37.5% and 60% ABV. A maximum of 1 g per litre of sugar can be added in order to soften the spirit.

The GI also specifies the use of cultured yeast, with both batch and continuous distillation allowed.

Norwegian aquavit meanwhile can range from near colourless to dark amber. Like vodka, it must be between 37.5% to 60% ABV.

The flavours must be principally derived from dill or caraway seeds, ensuring that the spirit includes the volatiles substances of limonene and (S)-carvone. Other herbs and spices can be used as a secondary flavour component. These include, but are not limited to, aniseed, celery seeds, chamomile flowers, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, grain of paradise, dried lemon peel, dried pomeranse peel, and star anise. The maturation process will add further flavour and chemical components to the spirit.

Unlike other aquavits, Norwegian aquavit must be made from potatoes rather than grain. The use of this raw material means that it is often deemed “sweeter” or “rounder” than other products in the category. At least 95% of the potatoes used to make the spirit must be grown in Norway, while only the ‘heart’ cut is collected and later bottled from the still.

Norwegian aquavit must be matured for at least six months in casks of 1,000 litres or less, or for at least 12 months in casks larger than 1,000 litres. Casks can be used or new and the maturation process must take place in Norway. A maximum of 15g per litre of sugar can be added to the spirit.

The application also notes the Norwegian distilling tradition, which dates back to 1531 when the city of Bergen was key centre of production. The maturation of aquavit dates to 1807. In the mid-19th century there were as many as 9,000 distilleries in Norway, mainly small-scale producers based on farms. In 1916, prohibition in Norway banned the production and consumption of spirits. This measure was repealed in 1927, but the government retained state ownership of spirit production through a monopoly called Vinmonopolet. After 78 years, the government ownership of state production came to an end in 2005.

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