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May 23, 2011 08:38 AM

Is there such a thing as decent American schnapps?

Yes, I know "schnapps" means something different in Europe. But I'm wondering if there's any American producer that brands a well-made, non-artificially-flavored liqueur as schnapps.


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  1. I think you are looking for eau-de-vie -- the French term for a high-proof, unsweetened distillate of fermented fruit. This is what schnapps is in Germany. Some German Schnapps is quite high in proof (> 80).

    Clear Creek makes a number of these, for a US example.

    I would avoid anything you see at the local liquor store labeled a schnapps unless it is clearly a German-style schnapps, as it will be grain neutral spirits, sweeteners, and hideous flavorings (natural and/or artificial). Butterscotch, for example.

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    3 Replies
    1. re: EvergreenDan

      Right. Knew about the eau de vie connection but wasn't sure if anyone in the US made something actually labeled schnapps, but made in the European tradition. But now that I think about it, duh, why would they do that, when the term has a bad rap here but eau de vie doesn't?

      Anyway, didn't know about Clear Creek, thanks! You're always helpful, ED.

      1. re: tatamagouche

        Clear Creek is wonderful. I have their kirsch, poire william, and pine. Highly recommended.

        1. re: dct

          DCT, if you like Campari and you have the Clear Creek Doug Fir eau-de-vie, you must try a Shiver. One of my all-time favorite drinks. I save it for good friends, since it requires squeezing a bunch of grapefruit juice and the Doug Fir is about $4/ounce.

          Man, now I want one....

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    2. The original (and most broadly based) definition of "schnapps" is merely any strong alcoholic beverage -- be it whisky, eau-de-vie (fruit brandy*** -- see below), grape brandy, etc. But its original meaning has mutated over time.

      Today, in Europe it refers most often, as Dan said, to clear eaux-de-vie/fruit brandies -- . This is NOT fruit-FLAVORED brandy, but rather brandy distilled from the fruit itself, be it cherry (Cerise eau-de-vie in French-speaking lands; Kirsch or Kirshwasser in German-speaking countires), pear, plum, raspberry, strawberry, etc., etc.

      *** Fruit-FLAVORED brandy is generally grape brandy with natural and/or artificial flavors added to the final product. These are mainly an American product, and will be clearly labeled as, for example, "Blackberry Flavored Bandy," and so on.

      In North America, however, large cordial brands such as DeKuyper or Hiram Walker, have made -- since the 1970s -- sweet, fruit- or spice-flavored, high-proof cordials under the designation of "Schnapps," such as Peach Schnapps, Cinnamon Schnapps. Peppermint Schnapps, or Apple Schnapps, among many others.

      So, I would agree with Dan that what you are looking for is eaux-de-vie. Clear Creek Distillery -- -- in Oregon makes several, as does St. George Spirits -- -- in Alameda, California. Several other distillers coast-to-coast are doing this as well, but I haven't really tasted them . . .

      9 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        Kirschwasser is a bit of a special case because the fruit is fermented with the crushed pits. This gives it a distinctive funky flavor. My German grandparents drank Kirschwasser after dinner on special occasions from a ceramic decanter and tiny ceramic cups. I don't drink it often, but I enjoy it. I can vouch for the Clear Creek product. My German executive chef friend liked it, too.

        On a related topic, take care when interpreting "<some fruit> brandy" in a recipe. For example, Apricot brandy could mean literally a brandy made distilling fermented apricots and aged in barrels. Or it could mean a sweet apricot liqueur. Sigh. In Kindred Cocktail we use "dry apricot brandy" for the former and "apricot liqueur" for the later to avoid the confusion. We use eau-de-vie to mean an unaged distillate.

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        1. re: zin1953

          Right, understood. I was literally simply asking whether any American companies that made fruit brandies literally labeled them schnapps, but then I realized why they wouldn't.

          I actually started the thread because I was thinking about how my Yiddish-speaking immigrant grandfather called his bourbon "schnapps," thereby confusing me for years.

          1. re: tatamagouche

            Vell if dey hed yiddish ecsents, then dey ver prabably drinkin' Slivovitz too. Which in the end qualifies under the euro definition. I like the idea of calling bourbon schnaps.

            A friend recently gave me a bottle of aged slivovitz (one of the standard brands) that was awesome. Add to the intentional aging the fact that the bottle had been gather dust in her moms basement for 30 years... It is quite tasty.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              I was surprised he wasn't drinking vodka (Russian Jews), but my dad assured me that upon coming to the States, he drank bourbon. :) Never did speak any English though.

              1. re: tatamagouche

                Honestly, bourbon isn't really too different then some of the aged vodkas. It is amazing what in Russia comes under the definition "Vodka." Including buffalo grass, hunters, aged, etc.

                It really almost just means booze.

                I am sure your gramps would have enjoyed a snort of the Slivovitz I landed.

                1. re: tatamagouche

                  My grandfather always had a shot of Bourbon (Old Weller 107, when is was still 7 year old) every day at lunch. And he always referred to it as schnapps.

              2. re: tatamagouche

                No US distillery that I can think of refers to their eaux-de-vie as schnapps. Personally I think that would be "death" from a marketing standpoint . . . with DeKuyper, Hiram Walker and others marketing sweet, cordial-type (yet higher in alcohol) beverages as "schnapps," were a craft distiller to market their (e.g.) peach eau-de-vie as "schnapps," people who drink Fuzzy Navels would be extremely disappointed . . . .

                1. re: zin1953

                  Right, that's what I realized...felt silly. Too funny about our grandfathers.

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