Oh Schnap!

I’m in the middle of making all the apple brandy we’ll use this year as the base of our gin and absinthe. Because of that, my mind has turned to schnapps.What comes to mind when you think of Schnapps?For most of us, probably memories of regret. Splitting headaches and hangovers so bad that the mere mention of the word triggers a slight gag.For many people, schnapps was their first foray into alcohol. A heisted bottle from your parent’s liquor cabinet smelling enticingly of peach candy or peppermint seems like a great idea after all. And then comes the morning after. After a few of these mistakes, Schnapps are often written off entirely, and for good reason. The Schnapps we’ve come to know (and despise) in the US are sugary sweet bastardizations bearing little resemblance to their forebears. But travel to Europe and you’ll find something far different.Schnaps (The second P is the Americanized spelling) are a traditional drink popular throughout Germany and Austria and neighboring areas. Unlike American Schnapps, which are usually grain alcohol with added fruit flavors and obscene amounts of sugar, European schnaps are actually distilled from the fruit itself. In France these are known as eau-de-vie, or water of life. Typically served chilled in a small glass, these spirits condense all the flavor of fresh fruit into a tiny swallow. In fact, the name schnaps originates from the act of consuming it in such a manner. Distilled in small alembic stills, these spirits originated much the same way as most other spirits. Not due to our unquenchable thirst, which is what causes continued production, but due to a surplus of food.Food spoils, we know that. Fruit will ripen to a point and then start to rot. Early farmers, trying to make the most of good crop year, would often be left with more than they could sell and needed to find a way to preserve their bounty. You could always pickle some things, but this would leave you with an unwieldy amount of food, in vinegar, in containers, that had to be looked after. Distillation however provided a means to preserve all the caloric value of the food while also capturing the flavor and spirit (yes, that’s where the word comes from) of the food itself. Distilled spirits condense everything about the fruit itself into a small, stable and manageable volume. In fact, it was very common in the old days for a travelling distillery to make its way around to different farms after harvests. Each farm would prep and ferment everything themselves and then the distiller would show up and turn it into their liquor for them.Eventually, this turned from necessity to craft and people began growing more fruit with the intention of turning it into brandy, eau-de-vie and schnaps. Necessity is the mother of invention after all.So, do yourself a favor and seek out some authentic schnaps, I have no doubt it’ll change your mind and alleviate the pain of some of those peach soaked bad memories. As with all aspects of the distilling world, there’s a wealth of history, traditions and origins waiting to be discovered, all it takes it is an inquisitive mind and a willingness to learn.