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As Ashley and I are slowly gearing up for our trip, I am starting to plan what food and drink I know I can’t miss on the road. My mind is focused on the land of Ice and fire and all of the wonders of Iceland so for this new Sunday Wine Down (on Monday because we had too much fun on Sunday) I am going to focus on a singular drink that has caught my interest. So sit back, grab a glass of wine and maybe a plate of fermented shark because we are here to talk about a notorious drink with the ominous name of black death.
Brennivin is the actual name of this drink but it’s commonly referred to as black death. Now I have yet to try this mysterious unsweetened schnapps, so I will not be able to give a first hand account of the stuff. It is on top of my list to drink though when we finally land in Iceland. Brennivin translates in english as burning wine and all the rumors I have heard suggest that name suits this drink. Brennivin got the name Black Death during Iceland’s prohibition on alcohol; the bottles had skull and cross bones put on the bottle by the the Icelandic government so people began to refer to it as Black Death when ordering. Note: the Icelandic Prohibition lasted from 1915-1922 but it was far more lenient than the prohibition in the States.
The national drink is made from fermenting grains or potato mash and is typically bottled at 80 proof. The flavoring has strong herbal flavors and the common flavoring used are caraway seeds. There is a long tradition in Scandinavian countries to steep herbs in alcohol to create schnapps.
So how are we supposed to enjoy this unsweetened schnapps? The experts say that you drink it cold in a shot glass or a tumbler. So keeping a bottle of it in your freezer is a common practice. You can serve it over ice or drink it neat. Drinking the Black Death is an acquired taste I have read and most critics say it is not worth trying this strong flavor of the drink. What do you pair with a drink whose flavor scares people away with? Fermented shark, of course. You read that correctly, rotting shark. The dish goes by the name of Hkarl and has just as big of a reputation in regards to its smell and unique flavor… It is a traditional dish that Anthony Bourdain quotes as the worst thing he ever tried. Nothing like a strong drink and some rotting shark to wake you up in the morning. Now if you are not like me and don’t want to try this paring feel free to pair Brennivin with lamb or strong fish.
I have not stopped talking about this national drink since we decided Iceland will be our first international destination on our trip around the world. I am a traditionalist at heart so why would I not want to try and learn to love this traditional drink of Iceland. I think I am more excited for the pairing of Black Death and fermented shark. Now I know Icelandic cuisine has moved away from this traditional pairing but hey, everybody has a past and what a fun thing to learn about.
I hope you enjoyed this latest Sunday wine down. If you have experienced Brennivin please comment below and share your story. I would love to hear it!