What they drink in Iceland (Brennivin) & do you want to drink it?
In our very earliest posts (here and here and here), we talked about our idea that you can have a quite adequate home bar if you buy eight basic bottles, and then a ninth bottle to give your bar a personal touch. If you’ve read much of what we write, you can probably tell that we have many more than nine bottles ourselves (and, if truth be told, we’d probably nudge you in that direction too), but we do try to keep our recipes to ones you could do, more or less, with the standard eight, plus one. It’s like we’re trying out many #9s on your behalf. You’re welcome.
Last week, our partners at Union Kitchen Catering and Events gave us the opportunity to give a new potential #9 a try, by asking us if we’d be interested in putting together a menu for a company goodbye party they were doing. The departing employee is a very big fan of Iceland; so the company wanted to see if we could design a menu around Iceland’s signature spirit, Brennivin.
We, of course, said that we were indeed interested. The fact that we’d never tasted Brennivin, seen it, or even heard of it was more an enticement than an impediment.
It was a little more challenging than we assumed to get our hands on a bottle. But we did, and the tasting and experimenting began.
What does Brennivin taste like, you ask? Our short answer: peculiar. You know that weird middle ground when your milk hasn’t quite soured yet, but you can tell it’s about to do so? Brennivin tasted to us like the vodka version of that. Iceland magazine, in something of a Brennivin puff piece, says it this way: “‘Distinct’ and ‘powerful’ are two words often used to describe the Icelandic aquavit, which was originally used to mask the taste of shark meat at Iceland’s winter festival Þorrablót.” It struck us as odd that you’d use something with a bit of a fishy taste itself to mask the flavor of shark meat. Or that you’d eat a meat the flavor of which you had to mask. But, hey, we’re no experts on shark or on Þorrablót.
We eventually found a few recipes we were happy with, but our first instincts for how to use Brennivin were bad ones. All of our usual tricks served to exaggerate rather than soften or complement its “distinct,” “powerful,” vaguely fishy flavor. We were pretty pleased with the taste of a White Icelandic, in which we swapped out the White Russian’s vodka for Brennivin; but I’m still not sure it will supplant the original in our tastes.
So Should You Buy It?
It’s probably clear that we didn’t totally love Brennivin ourselves, and it would be difficult for us to wholeheartedly recommend it. But we’re not the arbiter of all tastes. If you’re into quirky flavors or have Scandinavian tastes in food and drink, Brennivin might be your thing. If you are an Iceland enthusiast, Brennivin is probably already your favorite spirit.
Even so, you might have a hard time finding it. If you’re in DC, head to Foggy Bottom to Sherry’s, DC’s exclusive Brennivin supplier. If you’re not in DC, Iceland Naturally, an Iceland tourism site, lists all the North American suppliers. California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington state are in particularly good luck.
And if you’re wondering what to do with your Brennivin, Iceland Naturally also has some ideas for that.
If I do buy it, what should I make with it?
Created by Will Jarvis @ Juniper in Cody WY
Among the Iceland Naturally ideas, we liked the Wildfire best. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hot-pepper honey makes its way into other recipes sometime soon.
- 1.5 oz Brennivin
- .5 oz hot pepper honey (he uses cayenne and habanero to flavor the pepper; we just used cayenne)
- 3 drops bitters (he uses Bolivar; we used Angostura)
- shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass
- garnish with smoked applewood chips (we skipped this part)