Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Food & Drink

Iceland’s signature liquor Brennivín vs. Vodka: what is the difference?

By Staff

  • Brennivín The word translates as burning wine and comes from the same root as brandy, namely brandewijn.

VERSUS is a column where we compare stuff that are somehow related. This time it is the world's most popular alcohol beverage Vodka and Icelandic drink Brennivín, sometimes called Black Death. Both share the same humble origin and basic ingredients.


What is it?
Vodka is a distilled beverage. It is made of fermented substances such as grains, potatoes, or sometimes fruit and/or sugar.

Brennivín A distilled brand of schnapps that is considered Iceland’s signature liquor. It is sometimes called Svarti dauði, meaning Black Death. It is made from fermented potato mash and is flavored with caraway seeds.

How strong is it?
Vodka The European Union has established a minimum 37.5% alcohol-by-volume requirement for any “European vodka” to be named as such. Products sold as vodka in the United States must have an alcoholic content of 40% or more.

Brennivín has an alcoholic content of 37.5% or 40%.

What does it mean?
Vodka The name is a diminutive form of the Slavic word voda (water), interpreted as little water. The word vodka was recorded for the first time in 1405.

Brennivín The word Brennivín translates as burning wine and comes from the same root as brandy, namely brandewijn, which has its roots in the Dutch language (there’s also the German Brannt-wein). A variation of the same word is used in other North Germanic languages. In Swedish the liquor is referred to as brännvin.

Where does it come from?
Vodka The first production of vodka is believed to have been distilled in the 8th century in Poland.

Brennivín is similar to Scandinavian akvavit. The steeping of herbs in alcohol to create schnapps is a long-held folk tradition in all Scandinavian countries.

How is it drunk?
Vodka is drunk as schnapps or on the rocks. It is also commonly used in cocktails and mixed drinks.

Brennivín is almost solely drunk dry, or neat, as an experienced bartender might say, and usually frozen, to take the sting out of the strong taste.

How big is it?
Vodka is by far the highest selling alcohol sold in the world with numerous brands of the spirit. The estimated world vodka market value is around USD 12 billion (ISK 1.5 trillion, EUR 9.5 billion) in annual sales.

Brennivín is only produced in Iceland and only by one distillery. It is a novelty drink not consumed regularly by locals. It is however the traditional drink for the mid-winter feast, Þorrablót, especially after eating putrefied shark flesh or hákarl. Some say it helps to mask the taste of the fish. Brennivín can count musician Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters among its fans and its claim to fame is being mentioned in their song Skin and Bones, the line being “brennivín and cigarettes”.

Source: Wikipedia and more.

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