Between Christmas and the New Year, my Danish mother-in-law invites us to a Danish lunch. This is not an Irish-style sandwiches and soup affair, nor is it some Noma-influenced series of sprays, foams, smoke, crumbs and pyrotechnics.The Danish lunch is a precision event that slowly winds its way through a long afternoon. It begins with various flavours of herring, before moving on to other seafood, then to the meat course (liver pâté, duck, cold roast pork with crackling, and a host of accompaniments), finally finishing with cheese.Rye bread is served with each course, as is beer, a lager or brown beer, and akvavit.
Akvavit is a festive spirit, drunk throughout the year at weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations. The Swedes drink it on midsummer’s eve, or with crayfish. They prefer fennel as a flavouring, the Norwegians caraway. The Norwegians also sometimes send their akvavit across the equator twice (like Madeira) to produce an oak-aged version. However, caraway- flavoured Aalborg taffel akvavit is the Danish market leader, and is my favourite. Aalborg also produce Jubilaeums, aged in oak and flavoured with dill and coriander, created in 1946 to celebrate the centenary of the taffel akvavit, and other versions too. In addition, the company releases a special edition bottle every Christmas, that is eagerly sought by collectors. Akvavit should be served from the freezer in small schnaps glasses. It is the perfect accompaniment to herring, cutting through the oiliness with a spice-infused hit.
It is not easy to find Aalborg, or any other akvavit, in Ireland. Even the Danish Embassy failed to unearth a source. Redmonds of Ranelagh and the Celtic Whiskey Shop both have the Jubilaeums for around €50. Travel retail might be the best option. There are a few suggestions online for cocktails made with akvavit. Treat these with the contempt they deserve.
To enjoy your own Danish experience place your akvavit in the freezer. Put some good quality beer in the fridge. Buy a few jars of sild (herring) in Ikea; the dill one is my favourite, but all are acceptable. Mix some Atlantic prawns with a dill mayonnaise. Buy some firm, thinly-sliced rye bread. With a glass of cool beer and some chilled akvavit, you are all set. You could serve some smooth liver pâté, with beetroot, hard-boiled eggs, and maybe some leftover roast pork. Just make sure you have plenty of time and some good company.