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Akvavit, the inspiration for Batch 22, has been a Scandinavian favorite since the 1500s. Photo courtesy of Batch 22
Akvavit, the inspiration for Batch 22, has been a Scandinavian favorite since the 15th Century. Photo courtesy of Batch 22
Cheers! North County Columns Food & Wine

Batch 22: A bold American spin on classic aquavit

Batch 22? I admit I was skeptical. A new American twist on a traditional Nordic spirit loaded with various herbs and spices and created during the pandemic — by an actor? Call me “Skeptical Steve,” over here.

Then, for the purposes of serving this column only, I poured some Batch 22 into an old jelly jar* and tip it back. The liquid just wet my lips. The confused look on my face made the dog laugh. I shoved my nose in the jar and took a deep whiff.

The aroma was subtle and only slightly herbal. I took another sip, bigger this time. I don’t even have time to swish the liquid around my mouth before there is an explosion of mint and soft anise, and…something else I just can’t identify that early in the morning.

Later that afternoon, I pour a real cocktail — two ounces over a single square ice cube — to confirm the morning’s discovery. The first sip offers that same pleasant explosion but without the harshness of more commonly known big brand herbal spirits. The melting ice cube only serves to smooth the flavors out even more.

I have to know more, so I reach out to Batch 22 co-founder Matthew Arkin to learn more.

Cheers!: What made you decide to put your focus into the effort to create a new spirit now?

Matthew: There’s a clue to the whole story in the name of our company: Downtime Cocktails. Although the genesis of the idea was an event in the ‘70s on a film set in Europe with my dad, I started playing around with the recipe shortly after a phone call from him in the fall of 2019. It was really a lark and nothing that I intended to pursue.

When my friend Marc Marosi tasted the first batch, he realized I was on to something special and said we should think about marketing it. We brought in another friend, Bruce Glassman, with whom I went to college.

We began testing different versions of the recipe, but we each have other jobs, so we were really doing it on the side. Then the pandemic hit and, like so many others, we found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands.

We all like to keep busy, so that’s when our work began in earnest.

Cheers!: Batch 22s inspiration (Akvavit) has been a Scandinavian favorite since the 1500s. Are Americans, specifically, southern Californians, ready for such a distinctively flavored cocktail? Why?

Matthew: There’s definitely a space for Batch 22 on the shelf in bars and homes. The market is flooded with what I call the big 5: bourbon, scotch, gin, vodka, and tequila. Mezcal has had a rise in popularity lately, but as much as I love it, it has a distinctive smokiness that limits its appeal as well as its application. Batch 22 gives people an opportunity to try something new, which is always exciting.

Cheers!: I just tasted this cocktail for the first time. The aroma was very subtle, but the flavor exploded in my mouth. How do you describe the taste to someone who has never tried it?

Matthew: The best way to describe Batch 22 is to have someone taste it. Until they do . . . well, how would you describe a newly discovered color? What’s fun is that the blend of citrus, spices, and botanicals in Batch 22 are balanced in such a way that they all mask each other, so the specific components are difficult to identify.

The most common reaction we get is “I’ve never tasted anything like that,” followed immediately by “It’s really good,” or “I want more.” Then people try to guess what’s in it, but they’re almost always wrong. We’ve heard all kinds of guesses, even far out ones like watermelon rind.

Cheers!: You would have been a young gentleman in Europe in your late teens when you first tried the cocktail. Why did the memory of this drink, that experience, stick with you all this time?

Matthew: What sticks with me from that night is not so much the specific spirit in that unlabeled bottle (although it was fantastic) but rather the memory of the effect it had on the film crew. It renewed their energy and their joy. The late night shoot wasn’t work anymore. It was fun!

Cheers!: If you were to make a drink or a cocktail for someone who had never tried your spirits? What would it be and why?

Matthew: The first thing I do when introducing someone to Batch 22 is to give them a small taste, neat, so they can appreciate how unique it is. Then I ask them what’s their cocktail of choice. The two cocktails I’ll most often mix for people are the B&T, which is our version of a gin and tonic, using Batch 22 and elderflower tonic water, or the M22, which is our take on a Manhattan, named after a bus route through the lower east side, Chinatown, and the court district, all neighborhoods that have significance for me.

Both of these cocktails illustrate how Batch 22 is subtle enough that it can be substituted into classics in a way that will bring new character and depth without overpowering the underlying idea.

Cheers!: What did we miss? Anything else you want readers to know about Batch 22 right now?

Matthew: I’d like to encourage people to let Batch 22 inspire their creativity. That’s why we exist, to give people a reason to come together and celebrate each other with something unique and delicious.

Cheers!: What is the best way for SoCal residents to try or buy Batch 22?

Matthew: Batch 22 is available nationwide for purchase online through our website at http://drinkbatch22.com and available at select distributors across Southern California. Batch 22 is currently on the cocktail menu at Starlite Lounge on India Street and, beginning July 8, will be available in San Diego at Clem’s Bottle House in Kensington and Quality Liquor in University Heights.

More retail locations will be added in July, please visit the website and follow the (@drinkbatch22) Instagram for updates on where Batch 22 will be available.

*I use old Bonne Maman preserve jars.

Check back next week for some Fourth of July cocktails recipes. Stream the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast on the Coast News Podcast page, and be sure to follow and share your drinking adventures with Cheers! North County on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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