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A bottle of an Icelandic Brennivin brand

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]


Various Icelandic breweries produce different brands of brennivín, which all have their own character although loyal to the old brennivín once produced by the state-owned monopoly ÁTVR.

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]

  • 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)

See also[edit]