Short for kirschwasser, which is literally translated as cherry water, kirsch is a cherry brandy that is made by using a method of double distillation. The black cherry is the fruit of choice for the fermentation and distillation process, producing a brandy that has a robust flavor without a hint of sweetness. This characteristic helps to set kirsch apart from cherry liqueur, which is usually very sweet.
Traditionally, kirsch is aged in barrels that are made of ash wood. The combination of the distillation process and the type of container used in the aging of the fermented juice help to provide a finished product that is almost colorless. While both sweet and sour cherries are used today, the original formula involved the morello cherry, which is known for its tart and sour taste. Because the morello cherry originally was grown in the are surrounding the Black Forest in the southern portion of Germany, it is believed that kirsch originated in that area.
Kirsch is sometimes served on its own, as an aperitif. The cherry brand is also often used as an element in a number of different mixed drinks, such as the Black Forest, the Lady Finger, and the Florida Cocktail. Like the sweeter cherry liqueur, kirsch can also be used to add a touch of flavor to coffee.
Among the other applications of kirsch is in recipes that involve mixing the sweet with the sour. Often, kirsch will be paired with chocolate, as a means of not only enhancing the taste of the sweet, but also toning down the sugary taste. Many chocolate manufacturers employ a liquid center to chocolate creations that is made with kirsch. Many types of Swiss fondue dishes also make use of kirsch as a way of adding some zest to any sauce brewed in a fondue pot. The German favorite, Black Forest gateau, also includes kirsch among the essential ingredients.