Brennivin – The Black Death of Iceland

Brennivin: the Icelandic’s distinctive spirit.

What is Brennivin - The Black Death?

Brennivin, better known as “Black Death”, is the Icelandic’s distinctive spirit. It was created from the “aquavits” introduced by Danish merchants in Iceland in the 17th Century.

The exact translation for Brennivin is “Burnt Wine”. This refers to the way the “aquavit” is produced: it’s distilled over an opened flame. Completely different from the production of wine and beer through fermentation and without applying heat. 

And voila! Mixing the “aquavits” with some specific herbs, and distilling the “aquavit” in a specific way is how Brennivin was born.   The original Icelandic Schnapps.

There are two reasons why Brennivin is well known as “Black Death”.

First of all, because of its peculiar black label. It was designed to make the drink unappealing so people would not drink too much of it (good luck with that), and then the original label distinction was a skull.

The second reason we know Brennivin as the “Black Death” is that its consumption has caused many “deaths” or people passing out by drinking too much.

Brennivin “aquavit” has an alcohol percentage of 37.5%; therefore, the consumption should be moderate and especially if you are doing shots. 


What is an Aquavit?

Herbs flavoured stilled spirit

These “aquavits” are stilled spirits. They are very distinctive because of their flavored herbs. 

The word “aquavits” is derived from the Latin “aqua vitae”, which means “water of life”. It was called that because people thought that they were healing spirits. As a matter of fact “aquavits” were used during the Black Death period like medicine. Nowadays, people sometimes use it to help digestion after a rich meal.

Brennivin - The "Black Death" Taste

The main Icelandic’s “aquavit” is made of fermented mash potatoes, and is flavored with caraway seeds.  Those flavors make Brennivin stand out from Vodka and Gin beverages, and make this “aquavit” taste sweeter than the others. 

The “aquavit” can be distilled and blended with other ingredients. This blending has been oral lore in all Scandinavian countries, and the flavors will vary depending on the local taste preference. In Sweden and Denmark, the “aquavit” is distilled from grain.  Danish “aquavit” has a heavier taste in dill, coriander, and caraway seeds. Swedish “aquavits” are strong in anise and fennel flavors. 

Brennivin - When do you drink the “Black Death”?

Brennivin could be considered like a special-occasion shot. We can say that it is the traditional drink for Þorrablót festivity. But who needs a special occasion to enjoy a good Brennivin shot?  

You can also discover Brennivin by joining our “Reykjavik Beer & Booze Tour”. Where you will discover the fun history of alcohol and beer in Iceland.

Cheers from the Reykjavik Beer Tour

Brennivin - How do you drink the “Black Death”?

From 1915 to 1989, beer was prohibited in Iceland.  But when there is a will, there is a way and Icelandic people were smart enough to find ways to still enjoy a “similar” drink. They simply poured a shot of Brennivin liquor into alcohol-free beers to cheer up the cold days.  This was called Bjórlíki or Beer Placebo.

Nowadays, the perfect way to drink it is with a frozen shot glass, and if you wish, it’s preceded by a gulp of beer. 

How to drink “Black Death”?
Brennivin cocktail with dill

The new trend is to make Brennivin cocktails. Bartenders are using their creativity to produce amazing combinations of flavors. 

If you are a bit adventurous and a cocktail fan, check these Brennivin cocktails recipes to cheer up your parties with something completely unusual. 

Brennivin - What do I eat with the "Black Death"?

You are not going to find this explosion of flavors just trying Brennivin’s cocktail. For a complete experience of this “aquavit”, you may want to try it with some traditional Icelandic food. 

We recommend a nibble of
fermented shark, herring,  a lamb dish, or a simple charcuterie platter with some crackers.  Delicious! 

Don’t forget to toast like a Viking! Lift your glass, give an skál (cheers), and enjoy the flavors. 

Icelandic Fermented shark in plastic cans

Brennivin - The Black Death 2.0

Brennivin - The Black Death 2.0

As everything evolves, Brennivin ‘aquavit’ does too. During the last couple of years, the Icelandic artisanal distilleries have produced some refined versions of the Brennivin’s spirit. 

As an example, we can mention (and absolutely recommend) Þúfa artisanal liquor. It has an incredibly soft texture as a result of the manufacturing process. Pufa is slowly distilled with a customized distillation kettle using the heat of the hot water. Cumin, yarrow, and reed grass are the herbs you will find in the Þúfa brennivin flavors.   Its softened texture is because these herbs are all picked carefully by hand. 

Brennivin - Where to buy the “Black Death.”

In Iceland, you will find Brennivin in any wine and liquor store. But Brennivin is also gaining popularity around the world.

If you are in the US, you will find Brennivin very easily, thanks to Joe Spiegel, founder of Brennivin America. During his trip to Iceland, he completely fell in love with this liquor and realized that it was a market for North America’s spirit. He succeeded Brennivin’s importation in 2014.

If you want to give it a go, have a look where to find Brennivin in the U.S and Canada.  

Don’t worry if you are not based in the U.S; you can still try Brennivin.

There are some wine and liquor stores around Europe where you can find it.

If the search becomes difficult heads to the Internet. You will find some online shops that will ship Brennivin straight to your home! 

Brennivin - the “Black Death” Reviews

Have I not convinced you to try this “aquavit”? 

Have a look what Kara Newman, Spirit Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, says about Brennivin spirit: 

“Nuanced and palate-cleansing, look for a mild, savoury scent and bracing notes of dill, fennel seed, and pine, plus a brisk, zingy finish that suggests caraway-seeded rye bread. Pair this refreshing sip with herring or other savoury bites.”

Slash, the famous guitarist of Guns and Roses really loves his Black Death too. 


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