The folks at Tamworth Distilling live for turning notions of what goes into a distilled spirit upside down. These are the very people who brought us The House of Tamworth collection that features spirits infused with the seemingly the execrable flavors of beaver castor gland extract and the infamous corpse flower. To expand their portfolio beyond their more eccentric quafs and the more conventional offerings of gin and vodka, Tamworth turned to a unique tie to their New Hampshire history: the Nansen Ski Club.
This club was the "it" place to be in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Beyond holding the superlative of "The Oldest Ski Club in America," Nansen rose to fame in 1937 with the construction of the tallest ski jump in the United States, even hosting the 1938 Olympic trials. In 1988, the jump fell into disrepair, and was finally restored in 2015. Though the jump ("The Big Nansen") fell in and out of use, the club has continually operated since 1872. As the club was founded by Nordic settlers, Tamworth was inspired to craft something that likely would have been enjoyed post-slopes to warm cold bodies and kick off a proper "apres ski" experience: the traditional Scandinavian liqueur Aquavit.
Aquavit (or Akvavit) has a long history in Scandinavia, with its origins tracing back to the 1400s. Traditionally, the liquor is flavored with caraway and/or dill, and Tamworth infuses their whiskey-based (a blend of bourbon, wheat, and barley whiskeys) Skiklubben Aquavit
with the usual caraway, along with cardamom, star anise, and pink peppercorn. The result is a delightfully rich drink, full of spice and sweet, sure to warm you inside and out. Skiklubben Aquavit carries a beautiful top note of citrus and ginger, with a woody finish. In all, it's a lovely liquor that can be enjoyed solo or in a cocktail.
One of Tamworth's distillers - Matt Power - gave me an inside peek into how the distillery concocts these unusual drams. An organic chemist by training, Matt loves to push the boundaries and explore new frontiers of what "traditional" means. The FDA only permits a
very short list of food additives considered "substances generally recognized as safe," which derives from a regulation passed in 1958 (seems ripe for an update!). (And, yes, castoreum - that's the beaver gland extract - is a pre-approved additive, as is civet cat musk.) This limited list makes it challenging for Tamworth to take full advantage of the natural bounty of wild and locally cultivated herbs, fruits, and vegetables to infuse into its offerings. For example, an attempt to utilize wild mushrooms and lilacs was denied by TTB (Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau) for not fitting neatly into this list; the process to petition use of black trumpet mushrooms, for example, was a long, arduous process.
Despite these limitations, Tamworth continues to release new, exciting, boundary-pushing products. As Matt says, "We’re along for the ride with nature and always doing new stuff." I, personally, am looking forward to their upcoming series of "backyard gins" available in their distillery shop that feature local New Hampshire botanicals. Until then, give Skiklubben a try - it's truly curious drinking.