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Many cultures will have an affinity with a particularly strong brew! Germany is no exception with its famous Schnapps spirit: an alcoholic beverage that can include distilled fruit brandies or herbal liqueurs. Many will be flavoured by adding fruit syrups and spices.
The word Schnapps (As spelt by the English) is derived from the German word Schnaps or Schnäpse which means spirit drinks. In the German language the word Schnäpse is related to the similar sounding word Schnappen which means to snap or snatch. An accurate description, as most people like to consume schnapps from a small shot glass.
Most alcoholic beverages have humble beginnings that can be traced back to the apothecaries of the 15th and 16th centuries. These were often used as medicines, prescribed to invigorate the body, settle the stomach and cure disease.
By the 18th century they were becoming more widely popular and consumed by more common folk. At this stage, one might argue that the beverages intoxicating effects might have been more sought after than any alleged medicinal purposes!
Fruit brandies in the European alpine region (Austria, Switzerland, southern Germany and regions of France) are often called Obstler or Obstbrand. This word is derived from the German word for fruit, obst. Interestingly, in Northern Germany most of the distilled brews are grain based.
The most common types of fruit used to produce a traditional German fruit brandy are apples, pears, plumbs, cherries or apricots. There are well known schnapps made in the alpine region for each of these fruit types. Apples and pears are used to make Obstwasser (fruit water), Pears on their own are used to make Poire Williams (Williamsbrine, Williams pear), Plums are used to make Zwetschgenwasser (plum water), Cherries are distilled to make Kirschwasser (Cherry water), and Apricots are used to make Austrian Marillenschnaps (apricot brandy). Many of us are familiar with Peach Schnapps which is enjoyed in many ways in English speaking countries!
Herbal liqueur’s are not the same as Obstler. Herbal or fruit flavours can be added to a neutral spirit. Kräuterlikör(herbal liqueur) is very popular and renowned brands such as Jägermeister, Underberg, Kuemmerling, Killepitsch and Wurzelpeter are known for making Herbal liqueurs. An example of a Herbal liqueur is Himbeergeist (raspberry spirit) which is an infusion of macerated fresh berries in neutral spirit.
Schnapps is commonly drunk neat, quickly and generally with a salute! Germans commonly drink Schnapps before, during, or after a meal to help the stomach digest food. Everyone often wishes each other “Prost”, which translates as health and is similar to “cheers” in English.