Brennivín, the black death, the caraway flavored schnapps that is also Iceland’s signature (national?) liquor. Originally the label was intended to scare people away from buying it with the logo that was originally a white skull, later replaced with a map of Iceland. Personally that would have not scared me away, but I can see how it might have been a deterrent for some.
One of the most well known uses for Brennivín is to accompany hákarl, a traditional snack of fermented shark meat. Most reviews will refer to this as “putrid” or as Anthony Bourdain was quoted “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” that he has ever eaten. However I get the impression that those words were only said for the camera and not his real opinion. I personally found the meat to ‘meh’, not terrible but not necessarily something I would seek out. It was not particularly bad; slightly sweet, sour, mouldy, and a little fishy. Not something I would want to have regularly, but not horrible, it is a distinct flavor that is unique and interesting. The Brennivín is very effective at covering up the flavor though, although unlike some fermented foods, it is not a flavor that lingers for very long anyway.
On the nose Brennivín smells like caraway, exactly like caraway, nothing else, just caraway. No burn, no other scents, just caraway; you can tell that there is alcohol, but it is not a strong heat at all.
The taste is very similar…CARAWAY. Many reviews online, which I will not link as it seems like they are just posting to appease general readers, will quote it as pungent or overpowering, but it really is not bad at all. It for sure tastes like caraway, and really nothing else, but is very drinkable. If you like rye bread, sauerkraut, or just caraway in general I would highly suggest getting a taste of Brennivín.
Fortunately this stuff just made its way to the states a couple years ago via Brennivin America. Not available outside of the west coast or northeast though, so those of us in the rest of the country’s best bet may just be taking a trip to Iceland itself.