Distillation has taken shape over tens of thousands of years. More rudimentary forms of distilling have been traced back as far as ancient Mesopotamia. Many cultures used distillation to create medicine and perfumes. However, western distillation as we know it today took hold around 1150 in Italy. Now, in 2021, Tarpon Springs Distillery is distilling.
Aqua vitae, translating roughly to “water of life,” has described spiritous beverages as early as the 1200s. It was traditionally made by distilling wine to concentrate its alcohol content. Imagining how harsh early spirits likely were without modern distillation techniques, people really committed to catching a buzz to drink it enough to give it that name.
Aqua Vitae modernized to aquavit as dominant linguistics constantly shifted. The earliest written documentation of aquavit appeared in a letter penned by Lord Eske Billie of Bergenhus Castle in 1531. He claimed the drink was a magical tonic capable of healing internal and external ailments.
So, What Is It?
The base for aquavit is a distilled grain or potato-based spirit. In the early 16th century, distilling grains was a common practice. For instance, traveling monks who didn’t have ready access to wine for sacrament frequently practiced distillation.
However, these early distillers often flavored their spirits with whatever they found. This helped to take the edge off.
Aquavit flavors included things like caraway seed, dill, pickling spices, wild herbs, and other easily preservable and transportable things. These things gave it unique earthy, herby flavors which varied from region to region.
Why Did Tarpon Springs Distillery Make It?
The owner of Tarpon Springs Distillery, Barry Butler, loves two things: making great spirits and history. Making an aquavit tapped both of those loves.
Aquavit doesn’t typically align with modern taste preferences. After all, we have access to spirits artificially flavored to taste like anything under the sun. However, creating something that goes against the grain is a true test of art and prowess. That was a mountain that Barry couldn’t help but try and tackle.
While history is cool and all, at the end of the day it has to taste good, right? So, how is it?
We tried it. It pleases us to say, actually pretty dang good in a weird kinda way. In fact, the more we drank it the more we actually enjoyed it. My wife enjoyed it, despite normally being a “vodka or tequila only” kind of person. My sister liked it too, even though she hates anything other than a sweet cocktail. Pretty much everyone at the event we brought it to liked it as well.
That’s pretty crazy considering the list of ingredients shouldn’t have that many people enjoying it. Barry definitely succeeded in doing what he set out to do. He made a tasty and drinkable part of history. The cost is pretty darn decent too. Usually, commodities like this can cost a pretty penny. But, Tarpon Springs has the bottle at an easy $35.
Aquavit would make an awesome gift for whiskey or history lovers this holiday season. You can learn more about Tarpon Springs Distillery by visiting their website.
Greg Sinadinos started his spirits journey writing a whiskey periodical for Fine Tobacco NYC Magazine. He began answering review requests under a social media page he named “Whiskey Culture,” which quickly merged with Greg’s passion for connecting with others and his interest in history.
Today, Greg travels the country not just looking for great whiskey, but also exploring the history and individuals that the whiskey community is founded upon. He has authored “Whiskey History From Around The World” and is the host of “The Rickhouse” web series.