Bäversnaps, an Unusual Swedish Liqueur

And now for something even more different than the last post…

In trying to locate resources on how to process beaver scent sacs, castors, to make perfume from them, I kept running into sites in Swedish talking about a drink made from them. I found it hard to believe, but I’ve pieced together enough of the story to share it. Thank goodness that I have enough experience with Germanic languages to get the hang of written Swedish. I still can’t understand a word of it when it’s spoken at full speed.

Many Scandinavian people have a strong tradition of drinking small amounts of strong liqueur during a meal. In Swedish, they’re called Snaps, in German it’s Schnapps. In Sweden and Denmark especially, there’s a related tradition of distilling the liqueur at home or flavoring a simple aquavit with herbs grown at home.

And, believe it or not, Castoreum is one of the flavorings that people use.

Here are the original pages that gave me the most information:

Bäverhojt, of course! A must-have for every holiday table.
Mix the castoreum with spirits.
Let it sit for at least a month, add to more brandy and it’s ready to drink!
Tastes like the devil and smells like turpentine.
You will smell like beaver for a week afterward.
(This author is obviously not a fan, right?)

Once you have the glands, put them in 400 ml of 80 proof liquor in a glass jar.
Let stand for 4 months.
Strain the cloudy liquid through a filter twice.
This gives about 300 ml of essence.
For flavoring a 750 ml bottle of vodka, use between 5 and 15 ml, to taste.
One beaver can flavor 20-60 bottles of snaps.
If you drink the pure essence, people with an ordinary sense of smell will be able to detect it on you for two weeks.

The text is long-winded and doesn’t really say anything new but shows some great photos, removing any doubt as to whether they were using the castors fresh or dried. These are fresh.
This article reinforces that 80 proof liquor should be used in the extraction (oops!) and that it takes several weeks to several months.
It does, however say one thing that I haven’t heard elsewhere, which is that some malt whiskeys use castoreum.
It also says that the extraction should be done in a sunny window. I’ll follow that thread in my research and see who else thinks so.

And, lest you think that Beaver Snaps is some kooky redneck thing, here’s a review of the 25 best snaps in Sweden by Apéritif magazine.
“Tied for first place… [omitted] …and BVT HJT, representing Bäverhojt, made with castoreum and tasting very good with hints of whiskey.”

And, finally, here’s my recipe:

1 pair of fresh Beaver Castors, about 1/4 lb
1 pint of 190 proof Everclear
Drop the Castors into a mason jar and cover with the Everclear.
Shake vigorously several times a day for the first week. This will drive most of the castoreum out of the sacs and into the liquid.
Let sit until the sharp head notes disappear. (I’ll let you know when I know how long that takes and whether sun was better than shade.)

Then, to make the Snaps, I’ll follow a conservative version of the Swedish recipe:
5 ml Castoreum Extract
75 ml unflavored vodka
Serve ice cold in chilled cordial glasses

Sooooo, when my back-woods culinary genius friends return from their wilderness adventure, I’ll ask them to start thinking about a Swedish meal that would be complimented by Bäversnaps. I think my first batch will be ready by Spring. If other perfumer’s reports are accurate and time removes the raw urinary notes that dominate the head of this essence right now, it will be left with a smell and flavor like whiskey, new leather and juicy fruit gum, all saturated with vanilla undertones. Yum!

  • eldri littlewolf

    November 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    some things do better aged in (or with) wood..(you know that, just 'thinking out loud') you might try putting a *stick* of wood in a bottle … Oak is traditional, but apple or maple might be *interesting*-
    or, since beavers *Love* birch, aspen, alder, one of them might make a pond-themed liquor
    hugs! Good hunting!

  • Blossom Merz

    November 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Hey, Eldri!

    I love the idea of aging them in wood, but I'm going to skip it for this batch. I want to see what the castor elixir does all by itself. Maybe after it has aged, I can put the diluted snaps into wood (or vice versa) for the aging of the liqueur.

    I'll be bringing some of this to PantheaCon for sure!


  • eldri

    October 8, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Me again…I am glad the sites specify fresh-

    –I was wondering which notes 'went away' when dried—and which were transformed by aging (fermenting, too, perhaps?)

    Some things are Radically changed by drying (those mushroom that go from toxic to yummy) and if castors were among them…

    Keep us informed on All you projects!