display | more...

Brennivín is the alcoholic drink in Iceland. It is made from potato pulp and flavored with caraway seeds, much like Scandinavia akvavit. In Icelandic, Brennivín translates as 'burnt wine', although it is actually a type of Schnapps. It reportedly tastes nasty, but it's in the range of 70-75 proof, which makes up for a lot. It is often called 'black death' (svarti dauði) in Iceland.

"The prohibitionists designed the skull and crossbones label on the bottles of brennivin, and made up the name "Black Death." They were strong politically in those days. Black Death was what the great plague was called in the old days, when it killed great numbers of people in Europe. Historically that is what this name calls to mind for us Icelanders, the plague. So it was a strong label. As it turned out people just made fun of it and made jokes about it, making it one of the best advertisements for the brand.
-- maxClimb's Icelandic mother.

StrawberryFrog notes that brandy also shares the etymological meaning of 'burnt wine'. Both Icelandic and Old English are Germanic languages, so we share a lot of etymologies if you go back far enough. Brandy comes from the Germanic branntwein, although I haven't been able to find if this is the shared root.

Clockmaker notes that the Swedish cognate is brännvin. This provides an interesting addendum to the etymology, as in Swedish the use of the word bränna, meaning 'burn', is still used as a synonym for 'distill', as it was used long before chemists started talking distillation. He also adds that originally strong spirit was made by distilling wine, in the manner you still see with brandy. This continued until potatoes came to Europe from the New World providing a cheaper source of wort for brewing.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.