Bright Nights with Black Death



It was one of those nights on the road that I just could not drag myself out of the house.  It was July, the midnight sun over Reykjavik hovered in a thin crimson hue in the horizon.  I was exhausted and as usual Neil was revving to go.  Below our guesthouse, the crowds were amassing.  Loud party-goers were already smashing the first bottles on the side walk and the a cappella shrill of drunk females rose from the back parking lot.  Summer in Iceland is a time to get out and enjoy every sunny moment and locals were doing their best to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.  No matter how beautiful the weather was, they all knew—winter was coming.  So they indulged and Neil was ready to jump into the fray.


lake in reykjavik

Summertime is a great season to spend outdoors in Reykjavik. But come winter, it’s time for fermented shark and Brennevin, the black death.

Drinking the Black Death

That night or rather that morning, Neil came home from a night of karaoke with great tales of singing Sweet Leaf and Epic.  As the true sunrise began over Reykjavik, he told me about a guy who asked him to sing a song with him in Japanese.  “Sing this song Sukiyaki and I’ll buy you a beer.  Nobody will ever try Sukiyaki.”  Being a veteran of many karaoke nights in Japan, Neil struck the bargain and bellowed out the song aided by words in English phonetics.


A little while later he was cooling off outside after killing the tune The House of the Rising Sun.  Although it was 5 in the morning, the night was bright and he met another guy who admired his vocal repertoire.  The man offered him a shot of a drink called Black Death.  My husband, curious as ever, accepted the offer and had his first taste of Iceland’s ethnic drink.  A cumin schnapps called Brennivin, Black death is a clear liquid that is more smooth that most would think.  It pales in comparison to Scotch’s legendary burn and has a nice after taste of the earthy spice from which it is derived.


Buying Brennivin at Duty Free

Before our flight fromReykjavik into Amsterdam, we stopped in the duty free shops.  While perusing, we saw bright green plastic bottles on sale.  A worker walked over to us and smiled knowingly.  He knew that we knew that this liquor was a kick in the pants and even told us he usually abstained from drinking it unless it was a holiday that required such behavior.  On one holiday which honors their ancestors,  Icelanders toast to their forefathers by eating fermented (read as: rotten) shark and chase lovely bits down with the Brennivin that of course immediately dulls the senses and wipes away any aftertaste.


We laughed at the man’s story and bought a bottle for ourselves. Yes, it was authentic and historical.  But in the land of $20 lamb stew and the Golden Circle, a bottle of the Black Death was an easy $10.  Sold!


About Melissa Ruttanai

Melissa is a social media coordinator, pro-blogger, and certified teacher. Her travel obsessions have brought her to 33 countries and 25 US States. Her work has been published by at DINK Life, International Living Magazine, Escape From America Magazine, Trazzler and On Holiday Magazine. Connect with Melissa on Google+ Twitter: @WorldWinder and