Gammel Dansk: The Bitter Spirit the Danes Love to Knock Back

Gammel Dansk Bitter Dream

Culturally significant liquors don’t need to be ancient to have weight, just take a look at Denmark’s Gammel Dansk.

The spirit, meaning “Old Danish” in English, first saw light of day in 1964 as Danish Distillers’ factory manager and master blender J.K. Asmund experimented.

“This factory is in need of a new product if it is hoping to continue,” Asmund said, according to the Gammel Dansk website. “I am a man to make a new product. I have studied herbs and have an idea of ​​how a new drink should be made.” Pretty bold, Asmund, pretty bold.

gammel dansk danish spirit history info bitter

Although the complete recipe is a secret, it’s known that there are 29 herbs, spices and flowers in the recipe, ranging from gooseberries to star anise to orange and cinnamon, which sit in a clear spirit for three months. According to the distillery, a base recipe could date to the 16th century.

A few years following the initial development, production of Gammel Dansk began in earnest and quickly become a brand associated with Danes, now selling more than 4 million liters annually. It’s the nation’s second best selling spirit behind aquavit.

The liquor is bitter and caught on with the Danish back in the 1960s when they were commonly drinking bitter spirits in the morning. The bottles of Gammel Dansk also note the spirit’s suitability for other activities Danes enjoy, “Enjoyable in the morning, after a day’s work, when hunting or fishing, or as an aperitif,” the bottle reads in Danish. Though we’re not sure if we can get behind a bitter morning shot.

Gammel Dansk Shot

The light brown spirit smells of pepper, cinnamon and clove, starting with bitter tannic juniper before transitioning to sweeter fruits and a licorice finish.

Most often served room temperature in shot glasses, Gammel Dansk is a quick drink of celebration, whether it’s Christmas, Easter, a wedding or birthday, or a simple successful hunting trip. The 38 perecent ABV spirit can also be mixed with milk for a traditional cocktail.

The distiller recently released Old Danish Shot, which adds chili to the classic recipe, adding a warm complement to the original spirit.

Production of the Danish Distillers brands of Gammel Dansk and Aalborg Aquavit moved to Norway in 2015, according to The Local dk, an English Danish news site. Aside from where it’s produced, nothing else has changed.

“It is a very important brand,” said Lars Kragelund of the Norwegian firm Arcus Gruppen in the story. “And we think it is important to hold tight to the fantastic history created by Aalborg Akvavit.”