Cocktails Scandinavian Style: The New Hygge


THIS HOMEBOUND holiday season, while many will embrace the concept of hygge—the Danish way of cozy comfort—Swedish lagom may be more of the moment. It might also be the key to building a better drink.

While there’s no precise translation of lagom (pronounced log-ohm), it’s generally interpreted as “not too little, not too much”—a state of mind in which whatever you have is the perfect amount.

“It’s being pleased with what you have, and not wanting it to be something else,” said Selma Slabiak, proprietor of Selma’s Bar in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., and author of “Spirit of the North,” a cocktail book focused around Scandinavian drinking traditions. Although Ms. Slabiak is a native of Denmark, not Sweden, she understands lagom well, particularly as it relates to making drinks.



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“Maybe you don’t have a big liquor cabinet, but it’s lagom the way it is. You have all you need,” she said. Similarly, a drink can be lagom. “When I was a younger bartender, I thought you needed to keep adding things to make your cocktail stand out and be special,” Ms. Slabiak recalled. “But a Negroni is lagom. It has three ingredients. It’s perfect the way it is.”

In her 2017 book “Live Lagom: Balanced Living, the Swedish Way,” author and Swedish-American

Anna Brones

describes the folk etymology of the word. “It’s a romanticized version of lagom’s roots, a story of the Vikings passing around a horn of mead,” Ms. Brones writes. “Laget om, or ‘around the team,’ meant that the mead had to make it to everyone’s lips, requiring that each Viking only take an adequate sip so that there would be some for everyone.”

Lagom also encompasses environmental sustainability—taking what’s needed from the earth, not more—minimizing waste and embracing foods in season. And it’s about being moderate and mindful in daily life, Ms. Brones writes, taking what you need but leaving enough for others to be happy.

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Is it possible to find that balance in the current always-on, work-from-home hothouse of pandemic life? Yes, Ms. Slabiak insisted, if that’s the mindset you choose. “You find yourself in a situation and you say, ‘It can’t be any better, it’s perfect the way it is,’ ” she said.

If that sounds like a tall order, Ms. Slabiak’s Svalbard Sling will surely help. The embodiment of lagom, it’s an easy-drinking highball with just an ounce of aquavit (gin or vodka works too), flavored with a no-cook, no-waste citrus cordial that uses the whole fruit, peel and all. Topped up with festive bubbles, it’s not too strong, not too weak, equal parts sweet and tart. Just enough.

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Ingredients

  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice, plus peels from juiced fruit (about 4 lemons)
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice, plus peels from juiced fruit (about 2 medium oranges)
  • ½ cup superfine sugar

Directions

  1. In a jar or bowl, mix together juices and sugar until sugar completely dissolves. Add peels. Cover container. Steep overnight or up to 2 days.
  2. Strain before use. Will keep, refrigerated, up to 1 week. To prolong shelf life by at least 1 week, fortify with ½ ounce overproof clear spirit.

“I wanted to make a winter drink that is still refreshing, and I thought of the Arctic beauty of Svalbard,” close to the North Pole, said Ms. Slabiak of this drink’s namesake archipelago. The cordial uses both the juice and the peel of citrus at its seasonal peak. Resting the juice with the peels intensifies the flavor exponentially. If aquavit is unavailable, use gin. Or omit alcohol for a fizzy lemonade-like drink.

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces seltzer
  • ¾ ounce citrus cordial
  • 1 ounce Linie Aquavit
  • 1 whole star anise, for garnish

Directions

  1. Into a tall glass filled with ice, pour seltzer, cordial and then aquavit.
  2. Garnish with star anise.

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