From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A 500-ml bottle of Brennivín, which is generally clear, but in this case green

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 flavoured with caraway, and for this reason can be considered an aquavit.[1] The steeping of herbs in alcohol to create schnapps is a long-held folk tradition in Nordic countries. Brennivín has a taste similar to vodka or Scandinavian akvavit. It is typically bottled at 37.5 or 40% ABV (75 or 80 proof).


The word "brennivín" means "burning wine"[2] and comes from the same root as brandy, namely brandewijn, which has its roots in the Dutch language (also compare German Branntwein and Afrikaans brandewyn). 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", in Norwegian as "brennevin" and in Faroese as "brennivín".

The product was introduced in 1935, after prohibition ended in Iceland. The bottle contained a white skull on the black label, in order to warn against consumption, later replaced by the map of Iceland. Therefore, it was sometimes called "svarti dauði" (black death).


Brennivín is typically served cold and in a shot glass. It is the traditional accompaniment to the uniquely Icelandic hákarl, a type of fermented shark meat.[3][4][5]


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 Iceland[edit]

Export of Brennivín from Iceland to the United States began in early 2014. The American definition and image of schnapps is historically very different to that of Europe and rest of the world.[6] The U.S. label for Brennivin does not contain the word "schnapps" as schnapps is specifically defined by U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Formulation as a "liqueur," a flavoured spirit product containing sugar in an amount not less than 2.5% by weight. As Brennivin does not contain any added sugar, it is instead labeled in the U.S. as "Aquavit," an approved TTB class and type of formulation of caraway-flavoured distilled spirits.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

  • On television:
    • On an episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon airing 6 September 2013, Katie Couric and Jimmy Fallon toasted Katie's recent engagement to John Molner with shots of Brennivín.[8] Katie and John traveled to Iceland after their engagement[9] 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 Season 2, episode 8 of the OLN television series Departures, the sharkman offers Brennivin, aka The Black Death, to the main characters as they eat 5 month old fermented Greenland Shark meat.
    • In Season 30, episode 1 of the television reality show Amazing Race, in a detour challenge one team member takes a shot of Brennivin and another takes a shot of Cod Liver Oil.
  • In music:
  • In films:
  • 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".


  1. ^ "Portland, Oregon Update (Updated) and a Brennivin Question Answered". Brennivin America. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  2. ^ "brennivín". Íslenska alfræðiorðabókin (in Icelandic). 1. Bókaútgáfan Örn og Örlygur ehf. 2011. ISBN 978-9979-55000-6. Archived from the original on 2012-01-31. brenndur drykkur, brennt vín
  3. ^ Deanna Swaney (July 1994). Iceland, Greenland & the Faroe Islands: a travel survival kit. Lonely Planet Publications. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-86442-221-7.
  4. ^ National Geographic Traveler. National Geographic Society. 1994. p. 77.
  5. ^ Atlantica & Iceland Review. 15-16. 1977.
  6. ^ "Definition of Schnapps". Bar None Drinks. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  7. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-18. Retrieved 2013-11-21.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - NBC". Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  9. ^ "Katie Couric on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  10. ^ "Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (1/12) Movie CLIP - That Woman Deserves Her Revenge (2004) HD". YouTube. 27 September 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2015.

See also[edit]