2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

An Icy, Sober Death Is No Way to Go

Photo by: Jo Turner

An Icy, Sober Death Is No Way to Go

Brennivin in Heimaey

The flight to Heimaey is a deeply unpleasant experience.

About four nautical miles south of mainland Iceland, Heimaey is Iceland’s largest inhabited island, and the only inhabited island in the Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago. It’s a stunning place of green grass, black lava fields, dormant volcanoes, and a little town of 4500 souls. It also gets eight million puffins a year, including Toti, the resident mascot at the aquarium. It’s all very cute and bucolic.

But the flight here is a 25-minute experience that will send the most stringent atheist straight into the arms of Jesus.

When I asked if it was O.K. to bring water on the flight, the lady at the desk said, “Of course,” which was a pleasant surprise. It turns out it’s O.K. to bring an AK-47 on the flight, since there is literally no security. No one in their right mind would hijack this thing.

It’s a tiny plane—don’t ask me what kind—but holds about 15 passengers, though there were only six on our 7:15 out of Reykjavik Domestic. It also looks and sounds like it’s held together with duct tape and chewing gum.

It was clear going up, but the weather in Iceland can change in seconds. By the time we had reached some sort of altitude, the rain and wind began, and the plane began to rock, tilt, and fall. We were offered no assurance this was normal, or that everything was fine. The only staff on the flight, except for the pilot, was a dude in an orange vest who spat out commands in Icelandic. “Get on!” “Sit down!” “Buckle up!” “Shut up!” (I think that’s what he was saying; I have no way of knowing.)

I guess everything was O.K., because while my wife and I were shitting our pants, everyone else around us looked like all was normal. One lady flipped through a magazine. A guy readied songs on his iPod. Naturally, there was no drinks cart, and I wondered if it would be cool to crack open my bottle of Brennivin.

Brennivin is the national liquor of Iceland. A type of aquavit flavored with caraway seeds, it’s sometimes called “The Black Death.” I don’t know why. The real black death would be plunging 5000 feet into the North Atlantic Ocean without a drink in me.

I reached into my bag, which was resting between my legs. (None of this pansy-ass “bags under the seat in front of you, please,” on this flight. You put the bag wherever it will fit.) But I was disappointed.

Assuming there would be no liquids allowed on board, I had checked the Brennivin. Though I imagine it can’t be too hard to access your checked luggage in the back of the plane, I wasn’t about to unbuckle my belt and be sent hurtling through the plane. No, my nerves would have to wait.

In the end, we landed without incident, and when we arrived at the hotel, the Brennivin was there, ready. I had a long, clean shot of it.

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