What Is Schnaps?
In the English language, Schnaps refers to clear fruity brandy of German or Austrian origin. These are produced in an almost identical way to French eau-de-vie by distilling fermented fruit as we will explain in detail below.
In Germany, however, “Schnaps” is a Low-German colloquial term that simply refers to any alcoholic spirit similar to the Danish “Snaps”. The word is derived from “Schnappen”, which means to “snap” and is the action of taking a shot. Similarly, a shot glasses is often called a “Schnapper”.
When referring to fruit brandy, Germans will usually use the term “Obstler” instead. This isn’t far removed from the French use of “eau-de-vie de fruit” to distinguish from the colloquialism.
What’s The Difference Between Schnapps & Schnaps?
You’ll occasionally notice that Schnaps is sometimes spelled “Schnapps” with a mysterious second “P”. As mentioned above, the drink’s name is routed in the action for which the verb is also spelled with two Ps.
It’s likely that at some point, there were several spelling derivatives that would essentially mean the same thing. Indeed, they still often do when used colloquially. However, there is a distinction between “Schnaps” and “Schnapps”.
In the English language, German Schnaps is the fruit brandy that we described above despite meaning any spirit alcohol in its native language. Meanwhile, American Schnapps are liqueurs that are often produced by macerating grain alcohol that has already been distilled and then adding sugar.
As a result, Schnapps is much weaker and tends to be quite sweet and syrupy as well as a far cry from their German predecessors. Needless to say, this article will explore the German variety rather than the sweetened apéritif.
What Does Schnaps Taste Like?
Schladerer Zwetschgen Wasser
As Schnaps will often have a high alcoholic content, it first has a nose that can be initially overpowering. However, it also will simultaneously reveal a light fruity aroma depending on its main ingredient.
Generally, it can be quite warm on the palate with a prickly or even drying sensation depending on the alcohol content. Meanwhile, the fruit flavours will be perceptible and quite tart due to the low sugar content.
On most occasions, the fruit is perceptible from the beginning but may not be as vivid until near the finish. Often the fruit essence will linger well after the shot has been drunk.
Like eau-de-vie, Schnaps can easily blind the palate if kept in the mouth too long. In France, it is typically drink in small, short sips for this reason. Meanwhile, it tends to be “snapped” back as a shot in Germany hence the name!
How Schnaps Is Made & Its Ingredients
Traditional Obstler Schnaps fruit brandy is not made by distilling any sort of grain. In fact, the only ingredient is fresh fruit! Indeed, all authentic fruit brandy is made by distilling fresh fruit that has been fermented and then cutting it with clean water.
The best Schnaps will be very selective on the fruit that they use. Before it can be fermented, it must be fully ripened. If it’s too young, the presence of starch will prevent a proper fermentation process. Meanwhile, fruit that’s beginning to turn can ruin an entire batch.
Schladerer Williams Pears
Once picked and, in the case of pears or apples, left to ripen sufficiently, the fruit is then placed in airtight containers so it can ferment. Occasionally, it may be macerated into a pulp. However, whole fruit may be used too.
To speed up the process, producers may use varieties of yeast or enzymes. Otherwise, the fermentation can take a number of weeks or months. Once ready, the resulting pulp is then distilled twice.
After the distillation process has completed, the spirit is placed in large glass vessels. These are called “Carboy” in English and “Dame Jeanne” in French, but the Germans just refer to them as GlasBallon.
Schladerer Schnaps Carboys
Rather than being sealed, the top is simply covered with a cloth. During this final stage, the Schnaps is also to finish be evaporating impurities such as ether, which results in a mellow and refined flavour. This can take between 6 months to a year before the Schnaps is then cut with water and bottled.
Typical Alcohol Volume Percentage
Traditionally, Obstler Schnaps will have an ABV of around 40% and no less than 37.5%. Otherwise, some can be higher and range into the high forties or low fifties.
Meanwhile, Kräuterlikör can be regarded as a variety of Schnaps, which we explain below. Since this is technically a liqueur, it’s alcohol concentration can be as low as 15% ABV.
Different Types & Varieties Of Schnaps
While most Schnaps are Obstler brandies made from a limited selection of five different varieties of fruit, there are several other types you should know about:
- Obstwasser: Literally “fruit water”, this brandy is made from apples and pears together.
- Himbeergeist: A raspberry infusion made by steeping fresh berries in a neutral spirit.
- Kirschwasser: Sometimes referred to simply as “Kirsch”, the spirit is produce from morello cherries.
- Kräuterlikör: A herbal liqueur often associated with Schnaps despite not being an Obstler.
- Marillenschnaps: An apricot brandy traditionally made in Austria.
- Schlehengeist: A fruit brandy distilled from fermented sloes.
- Williamsbirne: Fruit brandy produced from Williams pears.
- Zwetschgenwasser: Fruit brandy made from plums.
While not Obstler spirits, both Kräuterlikör, Schlehengeist, and Himbeergeist are often associated with Schnaps due to their Germanic heritage.
Of the two, Himbeergeist and Schlehengeist are the closest to Obstler in that they are made using a fruit. However, since sloes and raspberries have such a low sugar content, they can’t easily produce a sufficient alcohol percentage.
Therefore, the fresh berries are macerated in a pure neutral spirit of 95.6% ABV. The mixture is then left to steep for several weeks before a second distillation process similar to making gin. Most spirits in Germany made this way will be referred to as a “Geist”.
Meanwhile, Kräuterlikör is a herbal liqueur of medieval origin. Long believed to have medicinal properties, it was produced by blending bitter herbs and spices. However, unlike bitters used in cocktails, they have a high sugar content to counteract this.
Most people are actually quite familiar with Kräuterlikör without knowing it. After all, one of the most famous ones is Jägermeister!
How To Serve & Drink Schnaps
A traditional digestif in many German and Austrian homes, Schnaps is often served following dinner. Occasionally, it may accompany dessert or it’s served right afterwards to help digestion.
Usually, Obstler Schnaps will be served at room temperature in a small tulip or copita nosing glass. This helps produce a rich bouquet of the fruit through the alcohol bloom. However, it can also be served it shot glasses.
In some cases, schnaps may be knocked back with a “Prost!” but it may be sipped slowly in some circles. Interestingly, schnaps was also sometimes served as a gesture of friendship when concluding a business agreement. Yet, this is probably a dying tradition these days.
As mentioned earlier, schnaps has a heavy alcohol aroma, which can be overpowering. Therefore, when nosing the glass, you should do so with small inhalations. Similarly, swirling the glass should avoided so not to release more alcohol vapour.
When sipping, the Schnaps stays only a moment on the tongue. As we detailed above, Schnaps can burn the taste buds and temporarily blind your senses. Therefore, it’s best enjoyed when swallowed soon after. Thanks to retro-olfaction, the finish can linger for a while through the nasal passageway.
Popular Schnaps Cocktail Recipes
Schladerer Kirschwasser Cocktail
If we were to include Kräuterlikör like Jägermeister, there would be an endless variety of cocktails given its popularity. However, for the purposes of this guide, we will limit it only to Obstler Schnaps.
While not an extremely well-known ingredient, nothing is sacred in the cocktail craze and there are a few interesting concoctions worth trying:
A simple and warming winter tipple, you can easily produce this one by mixing coffee with a Schnaps of your choice and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Pour into a tulip beer glass and feel free to add some whipped cream for an extra gourmand touch. If you’re having Kirschwasser, why not add a cherry on top?
For a twist on the classic Martini, mix 1 part dry Vermouth with 1.5 parts Schnaps. Feel free to add an olive as well as a twist of lemon. We’re quite fond of using Obstwasser as an alternative to the Appletini.
Mix 1 part Kirschwasser with a quarter part Grenadine before pouring it over ice in a high glass. Afterwards, top the glass with soda to taste.
Similar Drinks & Schnaps Substitutes
As mentioned earlier, Obstler Schnaps is almost identical to French eau-de-vie in everything but its name. Other varieties include Eastern European Slivovitz, which is a fruit brandy traditionally made from plums.
Indeed, there are different varieties of fruit brandy all over the world, which have similar production processes but different names. Therefore, you can easily use all of these as substitutes for cocktails or drinking occasions.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for something that’s similar yet different enough to change the experience, there are other clear spirits to consider. For instance, akvavit, gin, and jenever are all clear spirits that use botanicals to produce their unique flavours.
Alternatively, if you seek a neutral spirit for creating a cocktail, you can instead opt for vodka!
What Are The Benefits Of Drinking Schnaps?
Schladerer Copper Still
While Schnaps and Eau-de-Vie as well as a whole host of clear spirits were long produced as remedies, they rarely offered any medicinal benefits. Arguably, jenever and gin can alleviate some specific conditions. However, this is often greatly exaggerated.
Gluten, Carbs, & Calories In Aquavit
As a clear spirit, Schnaps is very low in any nutritional value. Therefore, a shot will contain no more than 45 calories and has no carbohydrates either.
Similarly, Obtsler Schnaps is made by distilling fruit rather than grain. As a result, it has no gluten and is perfectly safe to drink if you have any sensitivities to the protein.
Where To Buy Schnaps
Due to the common confusion between Schnaps and Schnapps, buying the genuine German product can be challenging outside of Europe. Nevertheless, some liquor stores do retail it alongside the sweetened American cordial.
In fact, most liquor stores will have some similar variety of fruit brandy and those with a strong European community may even have genuine products from home.
That said, we’ve had a lot of luck through online retailers. Drizly, for instance, is one of our favourite places for buying liquor. As it works with local liquor stores, it has a wide variety of products and can even delivery them in less than one hour.
Meanwhile, Reserve Bar is another website that we like to use. However, they don’t seem to be selling Schnaps or other fruit brandies just yet.
Pricing: How Much Does Schnaps Cost?
Depending on what you buy, Schnaps can be quite cheap! However, this usually reflects the quality. For instance, a premium German Schnaps that will have been made from high-quality fresh fruit will retail for around $60.
Meanwhile, cheaper Schnaps can cost between $20 to $30. That said, not all of them are bad! In fact, some of our favourites are in this price range and are of impeccable quality.
Top 10 Best Schnaps Brands
As mentioned above, we will now cover the top 10 best Schnaps brands that you can buy online:
- Schladerer Himbeergeist [Germany]
- Fidelitas Obstler [Germany]
- Massenez Kirsch Vieux [France]
- Clear Creek Kirschwasser [USA]
- Schladerer Williams Pear Birne [Germany]
- Bauer’s Obstler [Austria]
- Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnaps [Germany]
- Maraska Slivovitz [Croatia]
- Jägermeister [Germany]
- Killepitsch [Germany]
Scroll down to see them all or jump ahead using the links above.