The North Shore Distillery began producing Chicago's first craft liquors in 2005. Several months ago I first enjoyed the clean and smooth taste of their vodka when my friend Harold brought some over to my house. I soon sampled their gin and found it pleasing as well. The hand-numbered bottles of North Shore can be found in several locations in the city, most notably Sam's and Binny's. Nick and I learned from their website that they also offer a variety of less conventional liquors: Gin Infused with Medjool Dates, Gin Infused with Ceylon Tea, Tahitian Vanilla Vodka, and the very recently released Aquavit.
I decided to invite Harold over for a belated birthday celebration with dinner and a bottle of one of these unique liquors. I was quite excited about the date gin, but alas could only find the vanilla and Aquavit (it appears that this may have been a limited release, please do let me know if you find it). I settled on the Aquavit, primarily because Harold, Nick and I had never had it before.
Harold fixed us delicious cucumber and Plymouth gin martinis while I prepared the onion tart for baking. These simple drinks are incredibly refreshing and could be quite dangerous on a lazy summer day. Baby cucumbers are sliced and added to the shaker with the ice and gin. After shaking vigorously, pour into a martini glass and garnish with a cucumber wedge. The drinks take on lovely bright green hue and smell incredible.
I made an onion tart based on a recipe from Molly at Orangette. It had been a while since I last baked one. This tart is sweet and full of cream and caramelized onions. Quite perfect when served warm on a blizzardy February evening. (It is also extremely inexpensive to make.) Nick grilled us some zucchini as a side, which also helped brighten the plate.
(This picture is from the North Shore Distillery website, mine did not turn out well.)
We decided to enjoy the Aquavit straight in order to best evaluate the flavors. This Scandinavian liquor is most easily identified by its strong caraway flavor and soft golden hue. Many flavors common in gin were also prevalent in the Aquavit, especially the cardamom and anise. The Aquavit also seemed to boast just a hint of citrus rind. Overall, the flavors are much stronger in Aquavit and it should not simply be considered a differently flavored gin. The Aquavit was crisp and smooth and the flavors were complex and well-balanced. I highly recommend North Shore Aquavit as a change of pace for the gin and vodka drinker who enjoys the taste of a well-crafted liquor--not just what it is mixed with.