An alcoholic nectar like the Opland Juvel Aquavit from Norway is served to only a few, and only a few aficionados get to enjoy this unusual spirit. One looks for it in vain in the trade – long since the series rests in air-conditioned treasure chambers. No question, the Opland Juvel Aquavit is already a special drop under the rare spirits desired by collectors, which was produced besides only in a limited edition of 30 bottles.
In order for aquavit to be called genuine Norwegian aquavit, it must be made from Norwegian potato spirit, distilled caraway or dill seed, and aged in barrels for at least six months. It must also have an alcohol content of at least 37.5 degrees. The use of oak barrels to age the spirit, with the aquavit taking on an increasingly golden color in the process, is unique in Norway.
The limited edition Opland Juvel Aquavit has each been bottled in a numbered elegant crystal decanter, designed by renowned Norwegian product designer Sverre Uhnger and mouth-blown by the Norwegian master glassworks “Magnor Glassverk”. Opland has its aquavites produced at the famous Arcus distillery, which is one of Norway’s largest suppliers of wine and spirits.
Rectified spirit from the paradise cellar
“You work with a rectified spirit in aquavit, which means that the liquid mixture has been separated into its components through repeated distillation,” explains Morten Paulsen, senior product developer at Arcus, who has overseen the creation of Juvel (which is the Norwegian word for “jewel”) in recent years. “Once you’re ready, that’s when spices come into play. These add flavor, which is then further fully formed by aging in oak barrels.”
Paulsen and colleagues affectionately refer to the distillery, located amid rolling farmland north of Oslo, as “Paradise Cellar.” This is where Opland’s finest aquavits are stored, including the limited batches that the brand has traditionally produced for royal occasions such as births and weddings throughout its 149-year history.
“Each aquavit is a blend of different casks, but they were usually bottled in the same year,” Paulsen explains. “With Juvel, we were given a unique opportunity to play with our historic liquids. We used a blend of 14 exceptional aquavits, the oldest of which dates back to 1929. The older aquavits tend to be quite different from the style we drink today, so with this unique blend, the Juvel offers a very special taste experience.”
After finding the right blend of lagering spirits for the Juvel, Paulsen and his team reviewed the concoction every three months to assess its evolution. “When we were convinced it was perfect, it was a magical moment,” Paulsen recalls. “In Norway, you don’t waste words. We didn’t need to say anything, we just looked at each other. That was it.”
The resulting nectar was bottled in 30 unique crystal decanters, each numbered and presented in a massive wooden box made from unused and very old staves of sherry casks in which previous generations of Opland aquavit had been aged. Of these 30 decanters, 19 were destined for distribution in Norway – and immediately sold out. The auction house Chriestie’s had one bottle in an auction this summer – no proceeds were published, and the whereabouts of the remaining ten bottles could not be ascertained.
Rich, warm, fruity and cool aromas
And how does the Opland Juvel Aquavit taste? “In the glass, the discerning palate should be able to perceive rich aromas of vanilla, roasted nuts, coffee, coconut, dark chocolate and caramel brittle, complemented by notes of spice, including rye, licorice and warmed citrus,” Paulsen explains. “For the limited edition, we opted for a rather high alcohol content – 51 percent compared to the traditional 41.5 percent – and that results in a really smooth, full, warm mouthfeel. You also noticeably feel the dried fruit, apricot character in the finish, and the aging in used sherry casks, which gives Juvel notes of mint, eucalyptus and tropical fruit in particular, which also gives it a certain coolness.”
Although aquavit is traditionally drunk with food in Norway, Paulsen advises that an aquavit of Juvel’s class in particular should be enjoyed at room temperature if possible. “Ideally, the connoisseur should be in a moment of contemplation or meditation, perhaps sitting in front of the fireplace. Because our Juvel is so complex, a small sip really goes a long way. Believe me, the Juvel is very intense! To that I say only: skål!”
Water of Life
The name Aquavit is derived from the Latin “aqua vitae,” which means “water of life.” However, there are different definitions of exactly how it is made and drunk, depending on whether you are in parts of Europe or overseas. Just like French cognac or Italian grappa, for example, Norwegian aquavit is a protected name under European Union law.