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Brennivín (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈprɛnːɪvin]) is a clear, unsweetened schnapps that is considered to be Iceland's signature distilled beverage. It is a popular Icelandic liquor and special-occasion alcohol shot, and the traditional drink for the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót. It is made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, angelica, and other botanical ingredients. The steeping of herbs in alcohol to create schnapps is a long-held folk tradition in Scandinavian countries. Brennivín has a unique and distinctive taste similar to vodka or Scandinavian akvavit. It is typically bottled at 80 proof.
The word "brennivín" translates to English as "burning wine" and comes from the same root as brandy, namely brandewijn, which has its roots in the Dutch language (also compare German Branntwein). A variation of the same word is used in other North Germanic languages. In Swedish the liquor is referred to as "brännvin", in Danish as "brændevin" and in Norwegian as "brennevin".
The most popular brand of brennivín is produced by the Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery and is packaged in distinctive green bottles with a bold black label bearing the phrase "The Original Icelandic Spirit" or "The Original Icelandic Schnapps". The bottle's label once bore the letters ÁTVR, referring to Iceland's state-owned alcohol company that once produced brennivín in monopoly, but now features the coastal outline of Iceland.
Availability outside of Iceland
The American definition and image of schnapps is historically very different than that of Europe and rest of the world. The U.S. label for Brennivin does not contain the word "schnapps" as schnapps are specifically defined by U.S. TTB Formulation as a "liqueur," a flavored spirit product containing sugar in an amount not less than 2½% by weight. As Brennivin does not contain any added sugar, it is instead labeled in the U.S. more correctly as "Aquavit," an approved TTB class and type of formulation of caraway-flavored distilled spirits.
In popular culture
- On television:
- On an episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon airing September 6, 2013, Katie Couric and Jimmy Fallon toasted Katie's recent engagement to John Molner with shots of Brennivín. Katie and John traveled to Iceland after their engagement and she brought Jimmy a bottle of Brennivín to toast with on the show.
- Anthony Bourdain drinks Brennivín in Season 1, Episode 2 of his television series No Reservations (entitled "Iceland: Hello Darkness, My Old Friend").
- Zane Lamprey drank Brennivín and learned about its history on the Iceland episode of the television series Three Sheets.
- In the third part of the documentary "Vikings" on BBC, Neil Oliver is seen drinking Brennivín (referred to as "Black Death") while eating rotten shark on a Viking themed restaurant.
- In music:
- In films:
- Icelandic films such as Kristnihald undir Jökli, Land og synir, Stuttur Frakki, Djöflaeyjan, Ingaló, Cold Fever, and others have featured the drink.
- Brennivín can be seen drunk by "Budd" (Michael Madsen) in the film Kill Bill Volume 2. The bottle seen is the old type of bottle svarti dauði "black death" with a picture of a skull with a top hat.
- In literature:
- Brennivin is consumed frequently in the novels of the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness.
- In Philip Kerr's novel The One from the Other, main character Bernie Gunther gets drunk on Brennivín upon learning that his second wife is about to die.
- Brennivin is often mentioned in the works of Icelandic mystery writer Arnaldur Indriðason
- Robert A. Heinlein's novel Friday references a cocktail party with various spirits from Earth and other planets, the only Earth spirit specifically mentioned is "Icelandic Black Death."
- In a Japanese webcomic
- The character Iceland, in the Japanese webcomic Hetalia: Axis Powers, involves this drink in his song, "With Love, From Iceland".
- Deanna Swaney (July 1994). Iceland, Greenland & the Faroe Islands: a travel survival kit. Lonely Planet Publications. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-86442-221-7.
- National Geographic Traveler. National Geographic Society. 1994. p. 77.
- Atlantica & Iceland Review. 15-16. 1977.
- "Brennivin America LLC website".