Christie’s offers its first aquavit — Opland Juvel
Christie’s has a proud tradition of offering the very finest spirits to its clients. Now, coming to auction for the first time is an exclusive bottle of aquavit that is set to become the most expensive ever produced
Of all the many rare and extraordinary spirits that have been offered at Christie’s down the decades — the world’s oldest rums, Prohibition-era bourbon, ‘silent still’ Japanese whiskies — the crystal carafe of Opland Juvel coming to London on 17 June is one of the most unusual.
‘This is the first time Christie’s has ever offered aquavit at auction,’ says London head of Wine & Spirits, Noah May. ‘Our buyers are very discerning, but they are also curious in the pursuit of new tastes.’
Aquavit takes its name from the Latin aqua vitae, or ‘water of life’. There are, however, various definitions for exactly how it is made and how it is drunk, depending on whether you are in Sweden or Denmark, Iceland or Finland, Germany or Norway.
The very special bottle being offered at Christie’s, which is set to become the world’s most expensive aquavit of any kind when it is offered online with an estimate of £1,200-1,500, was created by Opland at the Arcus distillery, home to Norway’s largest producer and supplier of wine and spirits.
‘Just like French cognac or Italian grappa, for example, Norwegian aquavit is a protected name under European Union law,’ explains Morten Paulsen, senior product developer at Arcus, who for the past two years has overseen the creation of Juvel (which is the Norwegian word for ‘jewel’).
‘It must be made from distilled caraway seeds or dill seeds, pure Norwegian potato spirits, and matured in oak casks for a minimum of six months. It must also be at least 37.5 degrees proof.’
The use of oak casks to mature the spirit, which turns increasingly golden in colour as it does so, is unique to Norway.
‘You are working with a rectified spirit — as with gin, there is no flavour or aroma in the raw material,’ Paulsen continues. ‘It’s like a blank canvas, and that’s where the spices come in. They add the flavour, which combines with the effects of the oak maturation.’
On the second floor of the distillery, which sits amid rolling farmland just north of Oslo, is what Paulsen and his colleagues refer to as the Paradise Cellar.
This is where Opland’s finest aquavits are held, including the limited batches that the brand has traditionally produced over its 149-year history to celebrate royal occasions such as births and marriages.
‘Every aquavit is a blend taken from different casks, but they are usually casks that have been filled in the same year,’ Paulsen explains. ‘Juvel gave us an opportunity to play around with some of our most historic liquids.
‘We used a blend of 14 extraordinary aquavits to make Juvel, with the oldest dating back to 1929. The older aquavits tend to be quite different compared to the style we drink today, so Juvel offers a very distinctive taste experience.’
‘When at last we thought the Juvel blend was perfect, it was a magic moment. We didn’t need to say anything. We just looked at each other, and nodded’
Once the right blend of treasured spirits had been decided upon, Paulsen and his team checked up on it every three months to measure its ‘substantial’ development.
‘When at last we thought it was perfect, it was a magic moment,’ he recalls. ‘Norwegians don’t waste words — and we didn’t need to say anything. We just looked at each other, and nodded. This was it.’
The resulting nectar has been transferred into 30 unique crystal decanters, each numbered and presented in a solid oak box crafted from the century-old staves of sherry casks in which previous generations of Opland aquavit had been aged.
Of those 30 decanters, 19 were earmarked for distribution in Norway — and sold out immediately.
On the occasion when these very special packages are introduced to a glass, the discerning palate should be able to detect rich aromas of vanilla, roasted nuts, coffee, coconut, dark chocolate and caramel brittle, complemented by notes from the spices, including rye, liquorice and warm citrus.
‘We ended up with quite a high ABV — 51 per cent, compared to a more traditional 41.5 per cent — and it gives you a really smooth, full mouthfeel,’ Paulsen adds.
‘Juvel definitely has a spicy profile, but it’s very rounded. Caraway is the main spice in aquavit, and when it’s cask-matured it develops cooling notes, almost like mint or eucalyptus.
‘For me, that’s a very interesting note in this blend, and also the dried fruit character from the sherry casks — it’s evolved into something reminiscent of dried apricots, or tropical fruits. It is very intense!’
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Although aquavit is traditionally consumed with food in Norway, Paulsen advises enjoying Juvel on its own at room temperature, ‘in a moment of contemplation or meditation, perhaps in front of a fire. Because it is so complex, a little really goes a long way.’
‘Christie’s sells only the best, most special and rare spirits,’ observes Noah May. ‘We needed a very special bottle of aquavit to match the quality of those spirits, and we are now delighted to be able to offer Juvel to our collectors.’
As they say in Norway: skål!