What is Black Death,
And will it kill me?!

What is Black Death, and will it kill me?

What is Brennvín or “Black Death”? Where can you try black death in Iceland? Is black death dangerous?

Hooray! You’re on vacation in Iceland, one of the world’s most beautiful and exotic places to visit! Time to try something different right? Correct! Introducing the Black Death…. And what’s that, you ask?

When you hear these words for the first time, it normal to think of the Black Death Plague, one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people. The “Black Death”  that we will be referring to is not that one- but so much worse…

We are of course talking about the clear, unsweetened schnapps that is considered to be Iceland’s signature distilled beverage and is guaranteed to get you so drunk that you won’t remember your own name!

In this blog about Brennivin or “Black Death” as it’s better known in English, we will guide you through the most important things about this famous snaps. Here, you can find the following info:

  • What is Brennivin or “Black Death” and what is it made of?
  • How to drink Brennivin
  • Where to find Brennivin in Iceland


Text by: Egill Fannar


What is Brennivín or “Black Death?”?


There are definitely a thing or two to know about Brennivín! Brennvín translates directly to “burning wine” but don’t worry, you will survive! Brennivín is made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway. Brennivín has been poured into Icelandic snaps glasses for decades and is especially enjoyed during our mid-winter feast called Þorrablót.

For travelers and locals alike, this is Iceland’s most popular and traditional distilled beverage but also the schnapps with the nastiest reputation.

Like mentioned before, Brennvín translates directly to “burning wine” but its nickname throughout the centuries has been “Svarti Dauði” which direct translation is Black Death!

The reason for this? The government didn’t like the fact that Icelanders were getting hammered off this wild snaps – and forced the makers of it to make the bottles completely black with a big skull. This was the government attempt to make the beverage less appealing to buy. The result? Of course it got even more popular! You were considered to be a pretty cool if you were partying with the big black bottles. Today, the bottles are not decorated with skulls anymore but the black label still crowns the bottle today.

One does not visit Iceland without getting their senses burnt by Black death! Brennivín is definitely a must try while in Iceland, so cheers or as the Icelanders would say it, skál!

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How to drink Brennivín


Black death’s flavor itself is unique enough. But, if you truly want to experience the beverage in the most traditional way – you’ll have it with a side of fermented shark to guarantee some serious bragging rights for life. Start with ordering some fermented shark, admire its smell, take a bite and swallow it down with some awesome Brennivín!

Pro tip: This awesomely unique combo is a part of our super fun Reykjavik Bar Crawl!

If you are keen for some brennivín but don’t like snaps then we highly recommend to visit one of our favorite cocktail lounges in Reykjavik and order yourself one of those awesome cocktails that are based on Brennivín! An alternative that is constantly growing more both amongs locals and travelers!


Where to try Brennivín in Reykjavik


Like we mentioned before, joining our Reykjavik Bar Crawl is the perfect way to get in touch with Brennivín because that’s where you get a chance to have some along with fermented shark! And you won’t be the only one pushing your comfort zone because our bar crawl is always filled with all kinds of travelers from all over the world who are interested in having in Brennivín for the first time in their lives!

But apart from having Brennivín on our Bar Crawl, you can find a bottle of this fantastic liquid on almost every single bar in Reykjavik. You can’t really open a bar in Reykjavik without serving Brennivín because it doesn’t get more Icelandic than this!

You can also find bottles in our liquor stores and in duty-free at the airport. Little bottles of brennivín are the perfect souvenir to take back home and share with your friends!

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Brennivin is definitely a must try while traveling in Iceland! Even though it does have a nasty reputation it doesn’t mean that it is nasty! Many people actually love the drink and don’t think it’s bad at all! So, we truly encourage you to be adventurous when it comes to Brennivin and at least give it a shot! Was this helpful? Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section or
drop us a line via [email protected]!


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