Iceland's National Drink
Italy has wine, Russia has vodka, but what is Iceland’s National Drink? That would be Brennivín, sometimes called the “Black Death”.
Found across bars and shops all over Iceland, you may have spotted this intriguing liquor. Don't be intimidated. This black-labeled bottle was meant to deter drinkers; yet, it became extremely popular nationwide. Find out everything you need to know about Iceland's national drink and how to enjoy it while exploring the land of fire and ice.
What is Brennivín?
Brennivín is Iceland's traditional distilled spirit and is a type of flavoured spirit that is popular among the Scandinavian countries, called aquavit or akvavit. Brennivín is made from fermented grain or potato mash; however, it is flavoured with caraway or dill. Its nickname “the black death” has come from its high alcohol percentage (37.5% to 40% ABV) and its strong taste. The nickname began as a joke among locals but has stuck around.
What does Brennivín mean?
The name of this liquor has a fantastic and interesting name that almost mimics the feeling of drinking it and reflects the land of fire and ice where it derives from. "Brenni" translates directly to burn or burnt, whereas "vin" is wine. Brennivín translates to "burnt wine," and those who have tried it agree that it truly lives up to its name.
Black Death: What Makes Brennivín Special?
The thing that makes this drink so special to Icelanders and makes visitors to the country want to taste it, is its history and cultural significance. It has been a part of Icelandic traditions for centuries, especially during festivals and celebrations like Þorrablót.
Having been around for centuries, Iceland was first introduced to Brennivín by Danish merchants. However, it came into the limelight during a strange time in Icelandic history: prohibition.
In the 1900s, a prohibition was introduced, banning alcohol in Iceland. After 35 years, the ban came to an end, and alcohol was officially reintroduced to Iceland - except for the ban on beer which remained in place until 1989. This meant that local drinkers would sip on a shot of "Black Death" or fashion it into a “beer-like" cocktail.
How do you drink Brennivín?
The best way to get stuck into Iceland's eating and drinking culture is to enjoy a cold glass of Brennivín. Traditionally and authentically, the way to enjoy this strong liquor is in a cold or frozen shot glass. The liquor itself should be as cold as it can be, nearly at the point of freezing. You can take your drink after saying ‘Skál’ (cheers). Once it's been gulped, top it off with a sip of beer.
Luckily today, with no ban on beer or alcohol, there are many different cocktails you can try with Brennivín if drinking it straight isn't your thing. In fact, mixologists are using Brennivín to create signature and unique cocktails. Keep an eye on cocktail menus on your adventure or ask your bartender for something adventurous.
If you're looking for somewhere to enjoy a shot of Brennivín and a tasty bite to eat, then head to Bjórgarðurinn (The Beer Garden) in the centre of Reykjavik. Here you can try a wide selection of local beers and liquors while soaking up the lively atmosphere. Once you’ve enjoyed the food and drink. Head upstairs to your room at the Fosshotel Reykjavík for a comfortable and convenient place to stay.