Tuesday, July 28, 2009


There are lots of things I love about Iceland—the hidden people, the volcanic rock, and the knitwear, to name just a few—but it has its flaws, especially when it comes to the cuisine. There are the stellar lamb hot dogs (topped with raw onion, fried onions, ketchup, mustard, and remoulade) and the local yogurt (called skyr, slightly thicker than even the thickest Greek yogurt you’ve had). But once you even get past the fact that fruits and vegetables don’t grow on the island, there are things like hákarl (putrified shark meat), puffin, and whale that are downright gross.

It’s safe to say that I don’t bring home much putrified shark meat, but there is one thing that I can never bring home enough of: brennivín, the legendary Icelandic spirit also known as “black death.” Technically, brennivín is a caraway-based schnapps almost entirely synonymous with aquavit, a more familiar Scandinavian spirit. But hey, no aquavit has such snazzy packaging.

Both brennivín and aquavit are delicious straight (even Alinea serves Linie aquavit as an apertif), but there are a few cocktails that really make that caraway-scented spirit stand out. While I was in New York last weekend, we stopped by the speakeasy stalwart Death + Company to get out of the heat and soothe my woes of a hellish MTA journey into Brooklyn. I started with a delicious chamomile-infused Old Overhold Rye mixed with Campari and St. Germain, but nothing could compare to a drink I didn’t even notice until the second round: the Midnight Sun. Using the Portland-based Krogstad aquavit made by House Distillery, they added fresh lime juice, St. Germain, a mysterious ingredient called “Donn’s Mix #2,” and muddled it all together with cardamom pods. The result? A spicy but fresh and summery drink that is sure to become one of my household staples.

RECIPE (makes 1 drink):
2.5 oz aquavit (or brennivín if you are as lucky as I am)
1 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
.75 oz Donn’s Mix #2 (see below)
Juice of half a lime
8 cardamom pods
1 slice lime (for garnish)

Pour the aquavit, St. Germain, Donn’s Mix, and lime juice over the cardamom pods in a pint mixing glass. Muddle the ingredients together for a couple of minutes, really working to break down the cardamom pods. Add ice and shake for a few seconds. Strain into an old fashioned glass over ice and garnish with a slice of lime.

RECIPE (makes about 1.5 cups):
5 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
1 cup grapefruit juice
3/4 cup sugar

In a small pot, mix the sugar and 1/2 cup water and add the cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, ensuring all of the sugar dissolves. Let simmer for 30 minutes and take off heat. Let the syrup cool and then mix it together with the grapefruit juice. It makes a great addition to cocktails, especially rum-based drinks!

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