The Portland Connection: Krogstad Aquavit and Calisaya

Two cocktails with Calisaya bottle prominently visible to the right

Tonight started off with a simple goal: use some of the week-old lemons in the fruit bowl in a cocktail. Obviously there are a ton of citrus cocktail options and I wanted to try something that I hadn’t had in awhile. I settled on the Aviation, which is a classic among classics and combines gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and creme de violette.  After I had all the ingredients out in front of me, including the creme de violette that was hiding behind several bottles on a bottom shelf, I had the following thought: how can I make a new cocktail by substituting the creme de violette for something else?Now, I bet there are a bunch of fun directions in which to take this exercise. I mostly looked at the amaro and bitter liqueur areas of my liquor cabinet, but it could definitely be interesting to try other sweet liqueurs.  I thought about the Fair Trade Koji Berry Liqueur, for example, and there are probably options that use more common liqueurs like Benedictine or Apricot Liqueur.  Instead, my eyes were drawn to my bottle of Calisaya, which I’ve had for nearly two years and with which I have continuously failed to make a decent cocktail.

It’s not for lack of trying…the flavor of Calisaya starts sweet, ends bitter, and has a lot of interesting complexity.  Exactly what I like!  It is made from the bark of the cinchona calisaya shrub that originated in Peru and boasts “inimitable herbal and aromatic essences” according to the bottle.  I will happily drink Calisaya by itself, but every time I’ve mixed it either the flavor is drowned out by the other ingredients in the cocktail or the drink ends up with a mildly unpleasant after taste.  I’ve often thought that my problem was a bad choice of base spirit.  I prefer whiskey and rum cocktails, and I just don’t think that works well with Calisaya.

Since I started tonight with the Aviation cocktail in mind, I was thinking about clear base spirits and I happened to encounter my bottle of Krogstad Aquavit from Portland’s House Spirits. The caraway and anise flavors of the Krogstad seemed like it would pair well, so I went to work.  First I made an Aviation variant using these two ingredients.

Fly Me To Norway

1.5 oz Krogstad Aquavit
0.75 oz Calisaya
0.75 oz Lemon juice
0.5 oz Maraschino liqueur

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a drop of Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters.

Like many of my previous experiments with Calisaya, my first iteration of this cocktail used only 0.5 oz and the flavors of the liqueur were entirely dominated by everything else in the cocktail.  An additional quarter ounce seemed to amplify the flavors of Calisaya sufficiently, while still reminding me a great deal of an Aviation. The lavender bitters were key in this respect, as they add a floral component that is otherwise lacking and reminds one of violets while not being the same as creme de violette.

The success of the pairing of aquavit, Calisaya, and lavender bitters sent me down the road of a familiar trope: the Manhattan.  I love making Manhattan variants of all kinds using all sorts of spirits and bitters, and a Krogstad, Calisaya, Lavender bitters version seemed to be in order.

Cara Me Awaya

2 oz Krogstad Aquavit
1 oz Calisaya
4 drops Scrappy’s Lavender bitters

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

Of the two cocktails, this one is by far my favorite.  Keep in mind that I do not favor a mainstream taste profile, so your results may vary.  My first version did not use the lavender bitters and finished a lot more bitter than most people would enjoy.  Adding the lavender bitters took the edge off, but I was careful to only add a small amount so that the lavender did not take over the entire cocktail.  The result is a very spirit forward drink, because Calisaya is 35% abv, which quite a bit more than your standard vermouth.  The aroma is dominated by the aquavit with a hint of the calisaya’s bitterness.  I don’t notice any of the lavender in the smell.  When drinking, the cocktail opens with the caraway and anise flavors of the aquavit, becomes sweet and syrupy on the mid-palate, and then goes slightly bitter towards the end.  The finish lingers with some sweetness and bitterness, reminiscent of drinking Calisaya on its own but not as harsh.  I will definitely make this again.

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