European alchemists first called this alcoholic distillation which they thought would be a cure-all “the elixir of life”. Spirits are one of the most traditional forms of drinks, made since antiquity in the Middle East, arriving in the West during the crusades and changing little since then.

Schnapps is a spirit which has been very popular for a long time. It comes in a variety of flavours and can be made from different raw ingredients. In this article, we will arm you with the knowledge you need to find the best schnapps and other spirits and enjoy them.

Key facts

  • Spirits were first made by Arab alchemists as an alcoholic base for perfumes. The first Eastern alchemists who created the art of distillation used it to extract the “spirit” from wine. It is thought that the first spirits were used for medical remedies.
  • Some spirits are not only a drink in their own right but are also used as a base for other spirits and liqueurs. Schnapps and other spirits are made from distilling various organic products.
  • The first and last step in the distillation process are not suitable for human consumption. These are called the head and the tail and are used to make other drinks.
  • These drinks are classified based on the raw ingredients used for distillation of the original “paste”. Rum, tequila, whisky and vodka are types of spirits.

Shopping Guide: What you should know about schnapps

Schnapps is a traditional spirit, which has been distilled for centuries. Today there is a wide variety of schnapps available on the market, with different types, brands and flavours. To help you understand more about schnapps, we’ve prepared a shopping guide with the most frequently asked questions.

Schnapps is a spirit with very few calories, thanks to the distillation process which eliminates the sugars.
(Source: Vasin Leenanuruksa: 100105651/ 123rf.com)

What is schnapps?

Schnapps is made through a distillation process in order to facilitate the fermentation of alcohol. The process for this varies, and although is often made with grain alcohol, distillation of fruits and herbs can also be used. Later, flavours are often added by using freuit syrup, spices and other flavouring.

The term “schnapps” can refer to a range of different alcoholic spirits. It is typically between 15 and 20% alcohol (30 to 40 proof), but it can be much stronger.

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In Germany, the word “schnapps” refers to any kind of strong alcoholic drink, similar to eau de vie in French or aguardente in Spanish.

Where does schnapps come from?

Strong spirits like those used as a base for schnapps were originally distilled as an alcohol base to be used to make perfume. The art of distilling alcohol from vegetables, grains and fruits began in the East and spread to Europe via Spain during the Moorish invasion. At that time, the Arabic alchemists brought the art of distillation to the European continent. Following that, Spaniard Arnau de Vilanova is credited with inventing the process of distilling alcoholic drinks.

Schnapps should contain between 30% and 45% alcohol. Otherwise, they cannot be properly called Schnapps.
(Source: Andrey Kiselev: 43906369/ 123rf.com)

What is special about schnapps?

Arnau Vilanova and his student Ramón Llull were looking for the “elixir of life” when they distilled their first alcoholic spirit. They decided to empty a wine bottle into the still in order to extract its essence. This produced a colourless substance which when drunk caused euphoria, seemingly proving his theory.

Ezio FalconiFamous mixologist

“Spirits prolong our lives, that is why they deserve to be called the “elixir of life”.

How do you classify schnapps?

One of the most common ways to classify schnapps is according to their raw ingredient. Fruit brandies, as their name suggests, are a type of schnapps made from fruit. On the other hand, a popular German form of schnapps called Kräuterlikör is herb-based, and includes popular drinks like Jägermeister. You could consider whisky to be a form of schnapps made from grain, rum that made from sugar cane, and tequila a type of schnapps made from the agave plant.

Many spirits do not have a particular name but are rather referred to according to their key ingredients. Cider is an example of this, as is palm liqueur or mead. You can also classify spirits as wines (for example fruit wines) or pomace liqueurs.

What types of spirits are there?

As we’ve already mentioned, the most common types of schnapps spirits are rum, brandy, whisky and tequila. More broadly, there are also spirits made from grains, apple and apricot, the latter being very common in Central Europe. In the east, it is common to make spirits from palm and rice extracts, although we consider them exotic.

Other spirits which are common in Asia are made from fermenting milk, for example tuba, buri or Mongolian brandy. These usually have the suffix “arrac”, a very broad term which covers any kind of exotic spirit.

Below is a table of the most common schnapps, spirits and liqueurs:

Type Ingredient Colour Manufacture Characteristics
Pear Brandy Pears Clear Fermented inside the bottle or in steel jars. Does not go off. Some add the pear to the bottle, others apply the bottle to the pear while it is growing.
Plum brandy Plum Red Made with a variety of plums depending on where it is made. Sweet liqueur.
Juniper spirit Juniper berries Clear Gin is a common example. Also called Alise, from the provence of Alsace in France.
Apple brandy Apple Clear or amber. Distilled like cider and aged in an oak barrel. Two types: cider or apple spirit.
Grape brandy Grapes and wines. White if it is wine. Amber if it is brandy. Distillation of wine. Fermentation process produces grape brandy. Known as brandy or cognac.
Grains spirit Various types of cereals and grains. Clear or amber. Fermented from a paste of crushed cereals, grains and sugars. Depending on the raw ingredients, can be: whisky, sake, or vodka.
Cherry brandy Cherries and sour cherries. Dark Fruit and leaves are crushed together, then fermented and distilled. Best known variety is “marraschino”.
Tequila Blue agave and American agave. Clear Amber when aged. The agave is cooked and fermented, then distilled and aged in oak barrels.
Sugar cane spirits Sugar cane and molasses. Dark Made from crushed sugar cane. The pulp is then fermented and distilled. Called rum when made from sugar cane.

What are the characteristics of schnapps?

Schnapps and other spirits were originally distilled as a remedy for illnesses. 100 grams of spirits typically contains iron, calcium and vitamin K. It is also low in salt, and so can be consumed on most diets. Many pure spirits have few calories, although some forms of schnapps can be sweetened and therefore may have a higher amount of calories.

Schnapps is typically taken after large meals, as an aid to digestion. It has also been long used to improve circulation and to calm nerves and ease stress.

foco

Did you know that spirits can alleviate cough and other symptoms of the flu?

What percentage of alcohol is Schnapps?

The percentage of alcohol in spirits depends on their type and composition. What we call Schnapps in Australia is generally between 10 and 20% alcohol. Other spirits can have an alcohol concentration of between 30 and 45%. Some very strong spirits, like vodka, can be up to 60 or even 75% alcohol.

Although schnapps is a spirit in itself, it can be used as a base for other spirits.
(Source: Jacek Nowak: 26122709/ 123rf.com)

Spirits as a base for other alcohol

Although spirits are drinks in their own right, some can also be used as a base for other alcoholic drinks and liqueurs. This is because many do not have any flavour, smell or, in some cases, any colour. This makes them ideal to be used as a base for other drinks.

You can buy spirits which are designed specifically to be used as a base to make other liqueurs. These are different to those you’ll typically find in the bottle shop, as they are not suitable for consumption without modification, they don’t have any flavour and they are very strong.

Samuel JohnsonEnglish poet, essayist and literary critic

“Claret is a drink for boys; port is for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy”.

How long does an open bottle of schnapps last if kept properly?

Some spirits, such as whisky or vodka can keep for a long time after being opened. If the bottle is sealed, it can last for years. To keep it for as long as possible it is important that the bottle remains sealed and is stored vertically in a cool, dark place and away from sunlight as this can affect the taste.

On the other hand, other spirits such as milky liqueurs last much less long. These needed be stored in the fridge with the lid properly closed. These kinds of spirits usually have a printed expiration date.

How should I drink schnapps?

Schnapps are other spirits are very versatile drinks. You can have it on its own, at room temperature, which is how it is consumed traditionally, or you can drink it on ice. Normally, spirits and liqueurs are drunk at the end of a meal, along with coffee, as they are said to help with digestion after a big meal. They can also be mixed with other ingredients to create cocktails.

To make schnapps, sugar cane is crushed and the paste is then fermented and distilled.
(Source: Phonlawat Chaicheevinlikit: 48119343/ 123rf.com)

What goes well with schnapps?

The best thing to have with schnapps is dessert, as it goes well with all kinds of sweets and cakes. Schnapps and other liqueurs complement the flavour of cakes, pastries, biscuits, puddings, custard and many other sweet delights. They are also perfect for drinking with coffee.

Shopping criteria

As you have already seen, there are a wide variety of spirits and liqueurs available on the market these days. This variety reflects different distillation methods, raw materials and flavours. Schnapps and other spirits are complex drinks, so to help you choose the right one we have outlined the most important criteria to look for when making a purchase.

  • Presentation
  • Distillation
  • Pure or mixture
  • Type of spirit
  • Sweet or dry
  • Strength
  • Use

Presentation

The presentation of an alcoholic beverage says a lot about it. Not only because the bottle designs can be really quite beautiful. Large distilleries are committed to quality in every aspect and design is one of them. As with many things, a quality spirit enters first through the eye and then through the mouth.

The best brands have very professional designs and interestingly shaped bottles. The labels are usually of high quality, and may describe the history or background of the distillery. Of course, there are some brands which present their product in luxury packaging without this really representing the quality of the drink itself.

Schnapps is a traditional spirit, and one of the first known distilled drinks.
(Source: Ersler Dmitry: 46484711/ 123rf.com)

Distillation

Some distilleries have a long tradition of making great spirits. In Mexico, for example, we find the famous 10 tequila houses. This is an important aspect to note, as many of the best spirits come from the most famous distilleries.

Today you have so many options at your fingertips, you can browse through hundreds of wineries and distilleries. Our recommendation is that you choose one from a distillery with a long tradition since they have years of experience and family recipes passed from parents to children.

foco

Did you know that Schnapps has a percentage of alcohol between 10 and 20%?

Pure or mixture

Pure spirits are made from a single raw material. In the market, you will find apple, pear, plum, cereals, rice and cherry based spirits. These are traditional, light coloured and full-bodied spirits. They are high in alcohol and are usually taken after meals.

Mixed spirits are distilled with other elements. The most common is that made with anise, such as Sambuca. Also fruity mixtures such as plum or apricot brandies. Some mixed spirits are made from juniper berries, which are the main component in gin, and the most exotic are milk-based.

Type of spirit

As we have already mentioned, there are different types of spirits. The easiest way to categorise them is according to their main ingredients. That’s why you can find rice spirits, which are typical of Asia, such as sake or soju. In the West, the most common spirits are wine or grains.

As we have seen, there is a wide range of schnapps available. This reflects the range of different distillation processes, raw materials and flavours.
(Source: Mark Bowden: 42311861/ 123rf.com)

Sweet or dry

Generally, spirits are distilled without added sugars. Pure spirits are a type of alcohol with very few calories and which, through distillation processes, all sugars are eliminated. These dry spirits are more natural, made with traditional recipes and from organic agricultural ingredients.

Other spirits, such as tequila or rum, do contain sugar. There are also derivatives of schnapps and brandy with added sugars. These drinks are more palatable but less natural.

Strength

Spirits usually contain between 30% and 45% volume of alcohol, although the term aguardiente can refer to practically any beverage with high alcohol content. Some spirits can reach 75% alcohol.

Be sure to check the alcohol content before buying any spirit or liqueur. If you plan to drink it on its own, in a cold glass after meals, choose one that has between 30 and 45% alcohol at most, otherwise, it will be very strong and may even be unpleasant.

Use

Although spirits are a drink to be consumed in their own right, they can also used as a base to distill other liquors. If you plan to do this, choose a distilled base designed for this purpose, since it will be much cheaper than commercially sold versions, as they have no taste or smell and are made for that use.

Summary

Schnapps is the oldest distilled drink known to man. It is a traditional liquor that is made from the fermentation and distillation of organic agricultural products. It is a spirit drink that is taken around the world, especially as a final “touch” after a big meal, as it helps with digestion.

These days you can find a wide variety of spirits on the market. The simple ones are made from a single raw ingredient such as grapes or grain. The mixed spirits are usually sweeter and used as a base for another liqueur or wine. In this article, we have explained how to find and select the best spirit on the market.

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(Source of the featured image: Tadeusz Wejkszo: 29571911/ 123rf.com)

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