In this message, I will give you my recipe for making Akvavit. And to start with an important issue: the main ingredient in Akvavit is kummel or caraway, which is not the same as cumin. They do taste pretty much alike, but kummel is twice as strong in taste. Yield of esoteric oils in kummel is much higher than it is in cumin, that's why.
But let's start from the beginning. Where does Akvavit or Kummel come from? It is probably the oldest liquor around. At least in the Northern parts of Europe. As early of the 15th century, Kummel was made. It was - as with geneva and gin and tonic - pretty much a scientific invention. The bigger trading cities of Northern Europe (Northern Germany, The Netherlands, Scandinavia) were united in the Hanze Cities Collective. This trade co-operation boosted an economy based mostly on trading by sailing boats. Drinking water was not to be trusted in these low and relative flat countries (no mountain water) and beer just didn't keep well for the prolonged time a boat trip took.
Kummel liquor was the answer. Due to a higer alcohol percentage than beer (probably around 30%, in those days), it could be kept pretty much indefinitely. The kummel oil helped the stomach in digesting the coarse food. It probably also helped to get rid of any bad smells and tastes in the drink, since distillation techniques were in their infancy and heads and tails were cut, but always (!) and contnuously fed back into the next batch, ever increasing the toxicity of the next drinks being made. Apart from kummel, other ingredients were used as well (herbs). Last, quite some sugar was used to further "improve" the taste and drinkability.
Since the Hanze Cities mostly traded around the North Sea and East Sea, kummel derivates like Akvavit can still be found in those regions: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Denmarkt, Northern Germany. In the Netherlands it is hardly made or drunk anymore, eventhough kummel can still be an ingrediënt in Dutch Gins.
The oldest official distillery of Bols And Sons (established in 1572 in Amsterdam and still in existence) made what we might now call a sort of gin / kummel hybrid. I worked out a recipe, that should not be too far of, further down this post. First, let's start with a "genuine" Akvavit. Like the ones nowadays made and drunk in Norway and Denmark. And maybe a bit better, due to a different way of distillation, a slightly different ageing technique, and information on how to really drink Akvavit.
First I make from a sugar wash, and through a skip run and a fractionating run, 95% pure alcohol. Heads and tails are discarded, hearts are collected. Secondly, I water this down to 35% abv with distilled water. In this base vodka I mix per liter: 15 grams of kummel, 5 grams of koriander, 4 grams of dill and 3 grams of mildly crushed juniper berries. Just as is the case with making a good geneva, it is important to macerate these herbs between 12 to 24 hours.
After maceration, do not take out the herbs, but distill everything in a pot still. Distill relatively slow. The wattage I use is around 90 watts per liter (so for 5 liters you might need some 450 watts). Collect everything that comes out of your pot still. No head seperation is needed. Do stop when half of what you started with is hauled over. Did you distill 10 litres of 35% base drink with herbs? Then stop when you collected 5 litres. Any more and you will get off tastes from herbs coming over, that have been heated too long or too much.
When distillation is finished, delute with distilled water to 38% and allow the drink to settle. Store it in bottles with some head space for air and let them rest for at least 48 hours before drinking. A week of rest is better, actually. Oils, alcohol and water get better balanced, which enhances taste.
Since kummel or Akvavit is a drink that used to be stored on sea going trips, adding some wood is perfectly possible. Try medium American oak, around 10 grams per litre and leave it to rest for 4 weeks, than strain of and filter. After filtration another 48 hours of rest is needed to enable the liquor to re-find its balance.
Sweetening is alowed, although I do not prefer it. But if you do it, use brown sugar, please, and start with 5 grams per liter. If you like the effect, upgrade per 5 grams per liter to a maximum of around 30 grams per liter. And please rememeber: every time you add something or do something (filter, add sugar, wood, etc.) give the drink another 48 hours of rest, afterwards.
Apart from sweetening, colouring is allowed in an Akvavit. I am not a big fan of that either, but a darker drink will improve the perceived quality by the people you drink it with. Not because the drink is better, but because it looks more expensive or older.
If you want that, make some caramel (heat sugar in a pan, keep on mixing it until it liquifies and turns brown, stop heating when you have the brownishness you want and ad a teaspoon per liter to your drink). The caramel has - because of the heating - hardly any taste or sweetening effect on the Akvavit.
How to drink Akvavit? Ask anyone from Scandinavia and they will say: "from the fridge!" and take out the bottle. The last part (taking out that bottle) is good, but keeping it in the fridge? No way! Taste papils loose the ability to taste when cooled under 10 degrees centigrade. So if you drink liquor from the fridge, it is just too cold to enjoy the flavours. Furthermore, a cooled drink with a lot of esoteric oils in it (like my recipe) tends to shrimp a little and push out the oils. Taste will be off, because of that.
Which drinks should you chill? The ones of which you do not like the taste. Cool it and you taste less. Why do Scandinavians drink their Akvavit cooled? Because of a number of reasons, probably. Mainly, because often Akvavit was made by maceration and not distillation. Alcohol (brandy, maltwine) was bought and kummel was added to the drink. After some 6 weeks the kummel would be strained of, sugar would be added and you were ready to go. Macerated kummel however, that isnt distilled over, tends to have a sharp, even pungant taste and smell. Cooling it takes away most of the sharpness (and taste in general). And ... Scandinavia is a cold place. Long winters, men amongst each other, ice fishing, sauna, cooling down in the snow and then drinking an Akvavit. At ice temp and not room tenp. Not good, but that's how they do it.
Now another recipe I personally like. Add 10 grams of kummel, 10 grams of coriander and 10 grams of mildly crushed juniper berries to your 35% base vodka. Macerate for 12 to 24 hours and proceed as described above. This recipe might come very close to the first commercially distilled liquor in the world by Bols And Sons from Amsterdam. Its official name should be that it is a kummel jenever, kummel gin of caraway gin.