A few years back we holidayed in Finland and while we were there we were introduced to the delights of Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur. Salmiakki is that salty liquorice that Scandinavian people love so much, and so do we. In the city of Turku we were enjoying a few beers in a brilliant pub (a former pharmacy) and got talking to the barman; we asked him whether there was a spirit that was particularly Finnish and he poured us each a shot of Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur. He said that if we liked it we could easily re-create it at home by smashing up liquorice flavoured boiled sweets and adding it to a bottle of vodka, shaking frequently until the sweets were dissolved.
We've been making it sporadically at home now but Turkish Pepper (the hot sweets that have a powdery pepper filling) are not available in the UK and we've only been able to buy it when travelling in northern Europe, at which time we stock up on monstrous amounts of salt liquorice. A friend of ours recently visited the Nordicana festival, a celebration of Scandinavian arts and culture that was held in London and while there she spotted Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur and kindly bought us a bottle. I'm a little ashamed to admit that my initial thoughts were that she should have saved her money; after all we've been successfully making our own version at home and I never felt compelled to see whether I could buy this in the UK. Then I tasted it and was reminded of why I liked it so much in the first place.
Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur first appeared in the 1990s but people used to make their own liquorice flavoured schnapps type drink before then. When the drink became commercially available it was hugely popular with young people in particular, probably because it was taxed at the lower liqueur rate and not the rate for spirits, something that would make it rather attractive in a country where alcohol is expensive. Strictly speaking, however, it is a spirit: it's made from Koskenkorva Viina, a clear spirit made in Finland. It's not really a vodka but the EU labelling requirements describe it as such. Unfortunately the drink proved so alluring that there were reports of people dying as a result of their (over ) consumption and the Finnish government banned it. It turned out to be a not so good move on the part of the government because everyone started making their own 'salmiakkikossu', as it is generically known. So much was being made that the ban was eventually lifted a couple of years later.
Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur is made from ordinary salt liquorice sweets, ground and mixed with the Koskenkorva Viina. The version with Turkish Pepper is a homemade one and some people also like to make one using Fisherman's Friend cough sweets, the resulting tipple known as 'Fisu', a Finnish slang word for fish.
The salt liquorice takes the harsh alcoholic edge off the viina but that doesn't diminish the shock of your first sip, it just presents it in a different way. The alcohol content is 32%. The first thing to say is that if you don't like liquorice it's unlikely you'll like this; and even if you do like liquorice, this is salt liquorice, which might be another reason for it not to appeal.
In the bottle it looks thick and densely black but if you pour just a small amount and hold it up to the light you'll see that it's more brown than black and fine particles of black powder are visible. It has a strong liquorice aroma as well as an underlying general aroma of alcoholic spirit.
Although there are a few popular long drinks and cocktails made with Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur I've only ever drunk it as a shot. It's served cold and without ice. It tastes like a combination of liquorice and cough medicine. Although it tastes a little salty, it's not the over-riding flavour and the saltiness is well balanced with just the right amount of sweetness. Curiously for something so strongly flavoured and distinctive, it doesn't have a lengthy aftertaste.
In Finland salmiakkikossu has a reputation as a party drink. Although you can sip it (and it's how I prefer to drink it because I really enjoy the flavour and I want to savour it) it's more often knocked back in one, often as a chaser with beer. I particularly enjoy it when coming indoors on a cold winter's night and I find that I rarely fancy one in summer.
Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur has some advantages over the domestic version. For a start it's smoother and it has a better balance between salt and sugar so it might be more pleasing to those who don't love the saltiness of the homemade variety. It is also visually more appealing as it doesn't split as much as the homemade version even if the powder is still visible, though both types do require a really good shake before pouring.
If you like the sound of Koskenkorva Salmiakki Liqueur and you aren't heading to Finland anytime soon you can buy it in the UK from online retailer thewhiskyexchange.com. A 500ml bottle will set you back £16.15 (not including delivery). It is rather pricy but it would make a good present for someone (of legal drinking age) who likes salty liquorice.
Note: similar liquorice flavoured spirits can be found in Denmark and northern Germany (especially Schleswig-Holstein); in Germany it is known as 'Schwarze Sau' (black pig) and it's made with Doppelkorn rather than vodka.
Kosenkorva Salmiakki is simply an awesome drink providing you like liquorice. Finns are mad about liquorice, it's everywhere - sweets, ice creams, drinks and they produce a great deal of the liquorice available in the UK including those innocent looking panda bars!
Salmiakki is basically a pre-mixed cocktail of Koskenkorva Viina vodka which is the most common Finnish vodka and crushed up liquorice Turkinpippuri (Turkish Pepper) a common brand of liquorice throughout the Nordic Countries, this revolutionised the way Finns drink and brought cocktail to the masses there, the government weren't keen on it because despite the 40% alcohol it contains, the strong taste completely masks it and people can suffer alcohol poisoning by drinking far too much of it.
However, the Finns are a fairly cheerful bunch these days and it's not much of an issue! It's no surprise their suicide rate has dropped amazingly in recent years as this drink is simply worth living for!
If you can't pick it up locally you can make it yourself (perhaps not as well or maybe better!) by crushing up any salmiakki sweets (salty liquorice) and blending them with vodka.
Premixed Vodka Licorice cocktail from Finland.