Brennivín (see also
Brännvin) is an Icelandic schnapps,
considered the country's signature alcoholic beverage. It is made from
fermented potato pulp, and flavoured with caraway seeds. It is sometimes
called svarti dauði ("black death").
Left: A 500 ml
plastic bottle of Brennivín featuring its distinctive black label.
At times it is drunk as a "chaser" after sampling "hákarl",
which consists of putrefied shark meat, to mask the meat's taste. The word
brennivín literally translates into English as 'burning wine', and comes
from the same root as brandy, namely brandewijn which has its roots in
the Dutch language.
Despite its unofficial status as national beverage and a traditional drink for
the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót, many Icelanders do not regularly drink it.
The drink has a strong taste and high alcohol content (37.5% ABV), and carries
an equivocal reputation: despite the fact that Iceland levies huge taxes on most
alcoholic beverages, brennivín is actually one of the moderately priced liquors
available in the national alcohol store, Vínbúð, and is thus often associated
with alcoholics. It's very difficult to find in the United States.
Brennivín is similar to Scandinavian
Akvavit, especially the Danish variety, called brændevin.
In Swedish it is called
brännvin, and in Norwegian brennevin.
The steeping of herbs in alcohol to create Schnapps is a long-held folk
tradition in all Scandinavian countries.