On Friday, June 3, all the Golden Gate Vasa District 12 Golden Gate regulars gathered together at the Sveadal Clubhouse to set up for the next day’s Akvavit tournament, held on the weekend nearest to Sweden Day (Sweden’s national day, June 6). With tables set and signs posted, about two dozen volunteers enjoyed a delicious and plentiful potluck dinner on the Clubhouse deck.
The crowds arrived the next day. To build up an appetite there were friendly games of kubb on the Poker Lawn. Everyone agreed it was fun, for in this case and with these players it was purely a matter of luck ... and at least there was some physical movement involved, as compared to throwing dice. This was followed by a filling lunch of American sandwiches, chips, soda and cookies (to make up for all the calories burned at kubb, no doubt).
Of course the early birds can also spend time before the contest in many other activities: swimming and lounging at the pool, playing tennis or basketball at the courts, throwing horseshoes at the several pits behind the pool or hiking into the adjoining Uvas Canyon County Park. Some attended lectures on Swedish genealogy; others toured Sveadal to learn of its history. But everyone had to be back at the lodge by 3 p.m., when the Aquavit submissions were registered. By then more than one hundred more people had arrived, both contestants and consumers.

Akvavit competition
The contest is divided into three categories: 1) Most Traditional Akvavit; 2) Best Tasting Akvavit; and 3) Best Presentation. The first of these must have dill or caraway or anise and cannot contain any sweeteners. Each contestant may submit more than one entry in the same or multiple categories. The contestant’s name and other data is recorded separately and each submission is given a number and the categories under which it is to be judged. This year’s competition grew by half again, with some 60 entries.
The entries are laid out according to their categories. No one can sample any of the beverages before the judges have sampled that category. So, in the meantime, thirsty admirers gather around a smorgåsbord of sill, gravad lax, olives and pickles, as well as plenty of knäckebröd. Thoughtfully, lest any of the consumers faint for lack of a sip, water and saft are provided as a temporary substitute.
We were honored again to have three masters as judges:
Martin Geijer, a native of Stockholm and founder of the delicious Geijer Glögg, frequently advertises in Nordstjernan. Geijer Glögg 1889 is based upon his Swedish family’s generations-old recipe. He has transformed this into the world’s first glögg liqueur, which can be taken straight, on the rocks; bar masters are now using this as a secret ingredient in many familiar drinks or special cocktails. < www.geijerglogg.com >
Roberth Sundell, a native of Stockholm, is founder and owner of the exquisite Pläj Scandinavian Restaurant & Bar, located in the lively arts center of San Francisco. Featuring farm-to-table dining, it attracts a prestigious clientele and ranks among the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants. < www.plajrestaurant.com >
Alexander (Alex) Hult, a native of Borlänge, Sweden, was a professional hockey player in Sweden. Here in the U.S., he owns Hult’s Restaurant in Los Gatos. He, too, features farm-to-table dining and is an Open Table Diner’s Choice 2015 Winner. Hult was honored this year by California’s State Legislature for being selected as the Silicon Valley Small Business of the Year 2016. < www.hultsrestaurant.com >

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The people vote
Retired Vasa District 12 Master Mikael Peterson and his wife, Corky, once again distinguished themselves not merely for helping organize this year’s festivity but also for providing all of the accoutrements: the raffle tickets, akvavit glasses for sale or the free plastic shot glasses, but most especially for their 50-page Akvavit companion booklet (for a bargain $5 — AKVAVIT, The Water of Life: World Championship Akvavit Competition Recipes, compiled and edited by Corky & Mikael Peterson, and published by Peterson Publications, 2016). In addition to providing a brief history of akvavit and this competition, it not only offers loads of akvavit recipes but also recipes for foods to be paired with the “water of life.” It also provides several typical snapsvisor to be sung as an accompaniment to the elixir and to celebrate the good health and good times with good friends.
After the judges cleared one category’s table of drinks, the consumers descended upon the bottles of akvavit. Each person had a ballot to rank his choices and there was much animated debate on the worth of each flask, as well as many recommendations among friends to try this one or that one. Though the bottles with their creative names were anonymous, some were hawked by particular contestants more than others. Just the containers and their labels alone are creative, but especially at the Best Presentation table. Scott Schulkin, the founder of the event, hollowed out a whole watermelon, filled it with ice and one of his special blends and implanted a spigot in it. On a tray with it were huge strawberries, each scooped out to contain a delicious akvavit jelly.
But if Scott thought that he would out-stage his rival Jim Melin, he had another thought coming. Just as we were enjoying a strawberry and shot from Scott’s watermelon, Jim announced, “It’s a bird, it's a plane, no, it’s a Super Akvavit!” On cue, a drone bearing an icy bottle of delicious akvavit appeared and gently delivered it onto the Poker Lawn. The flagon was proudly brought to its place of honor, and Jim was rightfully proud as Scott and Bob Olson tried to convince him that all entries needed to be in place before the judging.
After the contest everyone gathered for pictures to commemorate the occasion, the judges and the winners. Then as bottles were retrieved, everyone retired inside the Clubhouse for a delicious dinner prepared by Sveadal chef Gloria Nelson. Many a skål was hoisted.

The winners
Because Scott Schulkin was a contestant, Ted Olsson was asked to step in as MC. He thanked Scott Schulkin for having created and sustained this enjoyable tradition. He also thanked Jim Melin for his promotion and creativity, the judges and all the organizers and participants. Then Jan Nordin led all Swedes in singing their national anthem, and the whole room sang a number of traditional snapsvisor.
Later Ted announced this year’s new champions:
Most Traditional: Bob Olson’s brews were awarded both the prize and the runner up position. This is all the more remarkable because Bob has now won this prize three years in a row. So, next year, he’s the one to beat.
Best Presentation: Jim Melin, for his creative presentation in landing his bottle precisely at ground zero and Team Odin’s tapped watermelon was runner-up.
Best Tasting: Carolyn Fedor-Thurman won this title with Jim Melin as runner-up.
The MC announced that next year there would be a fourth category of competition, open to all, whether contestant, consumer or observer. This will be the Skål Song Contest. The rules are simple: 1) pick any universally known American tune; 2) create a simply-rhymed lyric (typically including the word “aquavit”); 3) teach all to sing it; and 4) lead all in a communal skål with it.
The night ended with many a skål, fond memories and hauntingly beautiful trumpet serenades. Some people talked long into the night; others left. The next day was a program celebrating Vasa and Sweden Day.