Akevittfestivalen: Celebrating the culinary tradition of aquavit
By Alyssa Nilsen | Photos: Frostrøyk
Aquavit is one of the most internationally recognised Nordic products. The spirit, distilled from potatoes or grain, is typically paired with traditional meals, often at Christmas and similar celebrations. Norwegian festival Akevittfestivalen aims to inspire, educate and broaden our horizons on the culture and traditions of aquavit and the many possible uses of the spirit.
Aquavit, or ‘akevitt’ in Norwegian, is a spirit with a long and rich history. It remains unknown for just how long it has been distilled in Norway, but the first written records of the spirit date back to the 16th century. Norwegian annual festival Akevittfestivalen serves as a giant celebration of good drink, good food, culture and tradition, with aquavit as the centrepiece.
Taking place from 29 September to 1 October in the Norwegian town Gjøvik, idyllically located by the shores of lake Mjøsa, Akevittfestivalen gathers more than 30,000 people each year, making it the biggest of its kind in Norway. The location of the festival is not random. Gjøvik, self-titled The Capital of Aquavit, is from where the recipe for the famous aquavit brand Gammel Oppland hails.
Inspiring and educational experiences
Through collaborations with local restaurants and bars, the festival offers visitors top-quality culinary experiences and the chance to experience the spirit in ways other than just the traditional meal-side schnapps. Tables at restaurants are booked months in advance for the opportunity to enjoy local cuisine made by some of the region’s best chefs. But the festival doesn’t only offer sustenance in the form of food and drink. There is also an educational and inspirational aspect to the experience, albeit a social, interactive and quite pleasant one.
“One of the things we are passionate about is educating people on aquavit,” says festival director Marianne Aashaug. “We want to distance ourselves a bit from the tradition of keeping aquavit in the freezer only to be used as a schnapps or shots on Christmas Eve. There’s so much more to it.”
With increasing national and international popularity, the use of the spirit is expanding. Aquavit can successfully be paired with cheese or chocolate, or even used in cooking and cocktails. “There are more than 300 different types of Norwegian aquavits available,” Aashaug says. “There’s a wide range of varieties, so it’s possible to find an aquavit to fit whatever purpose you want and need.”
“Aquavit is a very versatile spirit,” bartender Stian Wehus adds. “Its uses in cocktails are infinite. It’s a world a lot of people are only now discovering. Visiting a great cocktail bar in New York and being served an amazing cocktail with Norwegian aquavit is a pure joy!”
Trying new combinations and uses of the spirit with old and new friends is one of the many highlights of Akevittfestivalen. The festival, in addition to collaborating with the local culinary scene, offers a sampling tent located by the central train station. There, distillers and beer brewers from the local area, as well as the rest of the country, showcase their products and specialties, giving visitors the opportunity to sample and experience their products.
In the evenings, the tent is converted into a concert venue, carrying on the celebrations into the early hours of the morning. Festival food market Mætt Ta Mat lets visitors sample and purchase local products, as well as meet and learn from the producers themselves.
Celebrating culinary culture in a social setting
A celebration of culinary art and culture, Akevittfestivalen attracts visitors with an interest in food, drink and tradition. To provide the chance to learn even more about these topics, the festival conference Mersmak offers inspiration and competence, aiming to increase the public’s interest in and knowledge of culinary culture and the importance of local tradition and produce.
Due to the compact layout of Gjøvik town, everything the festival has to offer is available on foot. Getting to Gjøvik and the festival is also easy. Trains and coaches run from all over Norway, and from Oslo central station there’s even a festival train specially chartered for the occasion. The so-called Aquavit Train brings festival guests from the Norwegian capital straight to Gjøvik, providing food and drinks along the way for an extra special experience.
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