My Icelandic grandmother loved to tell the story of receiving oranges in her Christmas stocking. As a poor family on an isolated island, citrus fruits were a rare expensive treat. Amma made the unwrapping of the orange peel sound like a religious experience, savoring every drop of the orange that she only got once a year.
This cocktail marries traditional brennivín schnapps with freshly squeezed orange juice and a sprig of rosemary for a global spin on Iceland’s signature alcohol. With a nickname like svarti dauði – black death – you know it’s strong! This cocktail is crisp and refreshing rather than sweet, blending fall spices & herbs with end-of-summer citrus.
Brennivín is made from fermented potatoes and flavored with caraway. Many people compare it to licorice, but as an avowed licorice-hater I’m here to say that it’s much closer to pure fennel or anise flavors. It’s a bit lethal – 80 proof! – so it’s often served ice-cold as a shot… traditionally alongside hákarl, fermented shark, but we can skip that part.
I sipped mine with a plate of hard cheeses and nuts, and it plays wonderfully with sweet jams. I can’t wait to try it with a slice of my sweet, dark Icelandic rye bread!
Brennivín has only been imported to the State for a couple of years, but it’s been exploding in availability so there’s a good chance you can find it! Check this list to find shops carrying brennivín in North America. I don’t know much about availability in the rest of the world; any international readers know where you can find it locally?
In the Icelandic tradition, skál!
Herb & Orange Brennivín Cocktail
- 1.5 oz. brennivín
- 1 oz. orange juice freshly squeezed
- 2-3 drops bitters
- 3 oz. club soda
- 1 sprig rosemary for garnish (optional)
- 1 slice orange for garnish (optional)
- 2 star anise for garnish (optional)
- Shake brennivín, orange juice, and bitters with ice.
- Strain into a rocks glass over ice and top with club soda.
- Garnish with a rosemary sprig, orange slice, and star anise. Enjoy!