Summer solstice is a special time for local Scandinavians who will be marking the occasion at this weekend's Midsummer Festival in Burnaby.
The annual event at the Scandinavian Community Centre features all manner of Nordic food and fun — including the famous Finnish wife-carrying contest.
But what the festival won't have much of this year is Aalborg Aquavit, the drink of choice for celebrating Scandinavians.
Supplies of the traditional liquor have dried up in B.C. and parts of the U.S, and no one knows why.
"If you look on the B.C. Liquor website there's only a few bottles left in the entire province," lamented Jack Larsen, a long-time member of the Danish House Society at the Scandinavian Centre.
Aquavit is an herb-infused spirit best served like a schnapps, ice cold, out of the freezer.
At 45 per cent alcohol, it tastes a bit like something that might have spilled out of a BIC lighter to the uninitiated.
Water of life
But to aquavit connoisseurs like Danish House vice president Peter Praegel, it's simply delicious.
"The name aquavit means water of life," he said. "It's always been a tradition in Denmark to have pickled herring and aquavit, or cheese and aquavit with the coffee. And many people put aquavit in their coffee — that's called "lidt sort" — a little black."
A B.C. Liquor Control Board spokesperson couldn't comment on the reasons behind the shortage. Praegel believes it may have something to do with the recent sale of Aalborg to a Norwegian company.
"Someone at the Centre asked the liquor board to bring all the remaining bottles [in the province] to Vancouver for us but they don't want to do that," he said.
There are other brands of aquavit available in B.C. but Aalborg is preferred for its tradition, with roots dating back to 17th century Denmark.
Aquavit crisis of 2006
In fact, the Danish House Society theme song — which opens with the line, "I love the schnapps and the schnapps loves me," — is essentially a musical salute to the brand.
It includes a verse about the aquavit crisis of 2006.
That's the year Scandinavian Centre partners scrambled to raise $18,000 to buy every last bottle of Aalborg in the province after getting word of a looming shortage.
"We borrowed $5,000 from the Norwegians, $5,000 from Danish House Society, $3,000 from the Swedes and the Scandinavian Business Club, and a couple thousand dollars from the Scandinavian Centre," said Larsen, who stockpiled the 715 bottles in his basement.
Archaic provincial liquor laws
Larsen said it would be easy to replenish the Scandinavian Centre's supply if provincial liquor laws weren't so archaic.
"There's a guy in West Edmonton Mall who brings in a couple pallets every year and we could go to Alberta and buy 10 cases but because the Scandinavian Centre is licensed through the B.C. Liquor Board we can't sell it." he said.
"Canada is a strange place. It's like 10 different countries when it comes to dealing with this stuff."
Praegel said he is now leaning on friends and family back in the homeland.
"Every time someone comes from Denmark we get them to bring a bottle."