The first and main spirit of Iceland, Brennivín was introduced to the public in 1935 when the government partially repealed prohibition. The stark label (which has only been slightly modified for legal reasons) was created to appeal to the temperance movement, but its design inadvertently drew more people to it. Colloquially known as the “black death,” due to the label and the Icelandic slang for drunk literally translating to “dead,” the clear spirit has been “killing” Icelanders for decades.
To this day, Brennivín is typically served neat and cold (re: nearly freezing) to the point where it has a very viscous mouthfeel, but it was often used for beer cocktails. Before the full repeal of prohibition in 1989, beer was still illegal, so locals would often pour a shot of Brennivín into a non-alcoholic beer. Though alcohol consumption and advertising is still heavily regulated, the floodgates have opened and so have the craft cocktail uses for the spirit.
Jeff Grdinich, The Rose, Jackson Hole, WY
1 ½ oz Brennivín
1 ¼ oz Lillet Rose
¼ oz Kina D’Avion d’Or
Method: Stir ingredients together. Strain into coupe glass.
Chaim Dauermann, Up&Up, NYC
1½ oz Brennivín aquavit
½ ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth
¼ ounce Rabarbaro Zucca amaro
1 ounce Stiegl Goldbräu pilsner beer
1 cucumber, sliced
Method: In a mixing glass, muddle three or four slices of cucumber into a juicy pulp. Fill the mixing glass with ice, then add the Brennivín, vermouth and Zucca. Stir well. Lastly, add the Stiegl beer. Strain the drink through a fine-mesh sieve into an ice-filled rocks glass. With a paring knife or peeler, cut off a strip of lemon peel and twist it over the drink to express the lemon oil. Discard the peel. Garnish with more slices of cucumber and serve.
Villi K., B5, Reykjavik
2 oz Brennivín
1 oz Chambord or Chateau Monet Creme Framboise
1 oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
Method: Shake with ice. Strain into a Collins glass and top with soda water to fill. Garnish with mint sprig and slice of grapefruit.