What is Snaps

Snaps, which is pronounced [ˈsnaps] in Swedish and Danish, is the term for a tiny sip of a strong alcoholic beverage taken during a meal. Snaps are often consumed as part of a ritual in Scandinavia, particularly in Denmark and Sweden, where it’s customary to do so on festivals like Midsummer, Christmas, and Easter. According to one account, this ceremony is performed as follows:

A number of people are seated around a table enjoying a traditional lunch, which consists of multiple courses and a fizzy beverage. The icy beverage is poured by the host into icy, long-stemmed glasses that have a conical shape. As he lifts his glass, the diners look at each other, making sure they’re not missing anyone. The host yells, “Skål!” and everyone takes a taste. After making eye contact once more, the glasses are placed on the table and remain there until the host raises his. It’s aquavit, the liquid. The custom is essentially the same across Scandinavia.

Despite its numerous variations, akvavit will always remain a snap in Denmark. Snaps is a more generic name used in Sweden, where it mainly refers to akvavit, although it can also refer to vodka, bitter liqueurs, or various types of brännvin or braendevin. Rarely are spirits like whiskey or brandy consumed as shots. In honor of Marshal C. G. E. Mannerheim, one of Finland’s strongest alcoholic beverages is called Marskin ryyppy and is served with snaps.

In the same sense as German Schnapps (German: [ʃnaps]), the word “snaps” also means “any strong alcoholic drink”.


Snaps are usually served with an entrée of pickled herring and potatoes, or surströmming, as in Swedish cuisine.

Before sipping snaps, Swedes, Danes, and Swedish-speaking Finns have a habit of singing songs, or snapsvisors. Most of these snapsvisors are tributes to the pleasures of sipping snaps. They can extol the flavor of snaps or declare a desire for them.

Known for being notoriously drunken events, Swedish crayfish parties are incomplete without snaps and snapsvisor. At a celebration like this, dozens of songs could be sung, and each song calls for a round of snaps. But it’s not necessary to empty the glass each time.

Home liquor production in Scandinavia

In Scandinavia, it is not permitted to distill snaps at home unless authorized by tax officials.

Nonetheless, many people have a long history of illegal home distillation, particularly in the rural areas of Sweden, Finland, and Norway.

Scandinavians have a practice of flavoring snaps at home. The southern regions, especially Denmark, are where this tradition is most entrenched. An aficionado for snaps will usually purchase commercially produced, bland-tasting snaps and then flavor them with herbs from the garden or the natural world. For example, snaps are seasoned with several spices in northern Denmark to create a dish known as “bjesk,” which translates approximately to “bitter.” The “bjesk” tale is told at the Hirtshals Museum in Hirtshals.

Blackthorn, Bog-myrtle, Dill, Persian Walnut, St. John’s Wort, Woodruff, and Wormwood are popular flavors for home flavoring. Although the herbs are usually used alone, some aficionados experiment with different combinations to find the ideal flavor.