One black death spread around Europe and Eurasia like wildfire. Another was confined to Iceland, deemed too unsafe to be exported. One was a literal plague, and the other would create its own sort of pandemic if released to the world. It’s called Brennivín, and you’ve never tried anything like it before.

The nickname “black death” comes from the black label that was created to appear unappealing to consumers. However, the “death” part is as you’d guess. Sporting a whopping 38% alcohol content, it’s no wonder Brennivín has been contained.

Brennivín itself is unlike other liquors at all. It’s a type of akvavit, which is a type of Scandinavian flavoured spirit. Akvavits are all characterised by being flavoured with either dill or caraway as well as often containing various other spices. The result is a complex, but somehow balanced beverage.

Hvonn in river
Hvonn In Its Natural Habitat

The spirit dates back to before the 17th century, when Danish men began to export their own akvavit to Iceland. However, it is believed to have existed before that for about 200 years, and simply only first found popularity in the 17th century.

From then until the 1980s, the drink was the most popular alcoholic beverage in Iceland due to its low price and high alcohol content. Brennivín is actually similar to vodka in that they’re both the product of a fermented substance (typically a grain or potatoes), only Brennivín is flavoured where vodka is not.

The two main infusion flavours of Brennivín are Hvönn and Söl, each distilled with their own natural Icelandic delicacies to give each Brennivín beverage a distinct flavour.

Hvönn Brennivín

Hvönn Brennivín served chilled and treated with respect and responsibility is a delicious experience. It’s a beverage that cools you down and heats you up simultaneously and brings the taste of Icelandic summer right to your fingertips.

Hvönn is a clear, colourless alcohol that is distilled with a mixture of Angelica and blueberries for flavour which gives it a sort of sweetened black liquorice undertone with hints of cumin, Angelica, and earthy greens. The blueberries go a long way to soften the bite of the alcohol, and the result is a sophisticated, balanced spirit that cushions the sharp aftertaste.

While Hvönn Brennivín is often served in cocktails, locals prefer their national delicacy to be first enjoyed on its own in order to get the full flavour and effects of such an infamous drink. Pair it with a bit of fermented shark on your next trip to Iceland for a truly unforgettable meal.

Here is one amazing cocktail made by Elna Tómasdottir award winning cocktail maker working at 101 Harbor Restaurant

Angelica, blueberries, lime and ginger

3cl Hvönn
3cl Blueberry liqueur
3 cl lime juice
Topped with ginger beer


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