By Carey Jones and John D. McCarthy
Updated February 16, 2016
© Carey Jones

All over Scandinavia, the drink of choice is aquavit — a clear spirit generally flavored with herbs and spices. In Iceland? Everywhere you go, you’ll see Brennivin. A potent grain spirit flavored with lots and lots of caraway. It’s a little unfamiliar at first but awesomely drinkable once you get into it. A little savory, without the toe-curling powerful herbal hit of some other aquavit.

If you’re in Iceland, you’ll drink it chilled in cute little shot glasses — it’s better when refrigerated, and better still when kept in the freezer. But if you’re not ready to go for straight Brennivin yet, it’s also excellent in cocktails. Here are three we love that show off the spirit.

Easy: Brenn & Tonic

Adding soda or tonic is a great way to get to know a spirit without drinking it neat. And in the case of Brennivin, it’s perfect with tonic — a little bit sweet to match the savory, a little bit herbal to play off the caraway. Refreshing and easy to love.

Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of Brennivin with four ounces of high-quality tonic water, like Fever Tree. Squeeze in a lemon wedge as a garnish.

Intermediate: Brenn-Hattan

Simply stirring Brennivin with sweet vermouth complements the spirit with rich, herbal flavors. A fresh sprig of rosemary adds another interesting herbal-earthy layer. Such a sophisticated drink, it’s hard to believe it only has three ingredients.

Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of Brennivin and an ounce of sweet vermouth. Stir until well-chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a rosemary sprig, slapping the sprig a few times before adding it to the glass to release its aroma.

Advanced: Cran-Brennivin

Black currants are quite popular in Scandinavia, and we loved the idea of adding them to savory Brennivin — like rye bread with berry jam. But currants aren’t the easiest fruit to find in the States. So we’re swapping in 100% cranberry juice (the kind with no other fruit juice or sugar) for a pleasantly tart cocktail where the Brennivin adds loads of character without getting too aggressive.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of Brennivin, 1 ounce of 100% cranberry juice, 1/2 ounce of fresh lemon juice, and 3/4 ounce of simple syrup (that’s sugar cut with an equal part of hot water). Shake that all up and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel.