Norwegian Vodka and Aquavit Are Now Protected Under E.U. Law
Norway is one of the most prominent European countries to not be a part of the E.U. That might explain why they haven’t been particularly active in applying for E.U. geographical indications (GIs). According to the online register, up until last week, they only had two products listed: Tørrfisk fra Lofoten (dried and matured Arctic cod) and Fenalår fra Norge (smoked leg of mutton). But now, the Nordic country has added two boozy new GI for European shoppers: Norwegian Vodka and Norwegian Aquavit.
According to the applications, both products have an established Norwegian identity. Spirit distillation is traced back to 1531 “when a package containing [Norwegian produced] aquavit was sent from the nobleman Eske Bille in Bergen to the last archbishop of Norway, Olav Engelbrektsson.” And Norway states that, even while the country was part of the Kingdom of Denmark, “rural Norway kept its regional spirit making traditions.”
By the mid-19th century, Norway says it had as many as 9,000 distilleries, “mainly smaller farm-based distilleries,” and during this time, “Norwegian spirit was regarded as an important household commodity and medicinal agent that prevented disease in the cold climate.” Unfortunately, this led to heavy drinking, which led to government regulation, which eventually led to a decade of prohibition from 1916 to 1927. (Whoops!) However, the application prefers to look on the bright side: As production moved from farmers to larger distillers to eventual government control, Norwegian Vodka became cleaner and purer, making it “the high quality, low methanol, low congeners spirit it is today.”
For Norwegian Aquavit, the connection is even more detailed. “In 1776, Christopher Blix Hammer who lived in the community Melbostad at Hadeland, published the dissertation ‘Chymiskoeconomisk Afhandling om norske Akeviter, Bær-Tinkturer og Bær-Safter’ (eng. ‘chemical-economic dissertation on Norwegian aquavits, berry-macerates and berry juices’),” the application states. “The paper describes the production of aquavits using grain spirit combined with different herbs and spices.” However, as time went on, the production methods changed: In the 1830s, potatoes became the preferred raw material for creating the spirit. And in the early 1800s, cask maturation was introduced as an important part of the process.
All of this history contributes to the rules that govern the new GIs today. Aquavit must be made with at least 95 percent Norwegian potatoes and must primarily be flavored with caraway and/or dill seeds, followed by maturation in Norway in wooden casks. Meanwhile, for vodka, though the ingredients may be imported, the spirit itself has to be mashed, fermented and distilled in Norway. The production must result in “a pure and organoleptic neutral vodka,” which “is important, as the character of the pure distillate is the most decisive for product quality.”
Additionally, though Norwegian Vodka is already protected as part of a European Economic Area agreement, Norway writes that further protection is important because “foreign interests have recently attempted to market a vodka not produced in Norway as Norsk Vodka/Norwegian Vodka.” So let that be a warning to all of us: Make sure your Norwegian spirits are legit!