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What is Schnapps?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Schnapps is a spirit distilled from fruits, such as pears, apples, peaches, or cherries. Real German schnapps has no sugar added and is not particularly sweet, though it carries some of the flavor of its source fruit. The French eau de vie is in many ways analogous to this spirit, with its subtle fruit flavors.

Although true schnapps is simply distilled fruit juice with no sugar added, the word is often used — especially in the United States — to refer something fairly different. This type, really more like a liqueur, usually has a substantial amount of sugar and additional flavoring added and is quite sweet as a result. Some types, such as butterscotch schnapps, are not distilled from their flavor source — distilling butterscotch would be rather difficult — but instead use a base alcohol and add flavor. Even many American schnapps that could be distilled from a fruit juice are instead made by steeping the fruit in a base alcohol, such as vodka.

Like vodka, gin, rum, and many other hard alcohols, schnapps is usually 40% alcohol (80 Proof). It is rarely found at higher proofs than this, though it is not uncommon to find varieties at 30% alcohol (60 Proof), or even lower. This spirit is often drunk on its own, either neat or with ice, and different flavors are used in a wide range of mixed drinks.

It could be said without much exaggeration that there are as many flavors of schnapps as there are flavors of soda. While some, such as peach, apple, and cherry, are derived from the juices of a real fruit — or at least could be, if a traditional process were used to make them — others, such as cinnamon and peppermint, have no source in the world of fruit. Still others, such as butterscotch and root beer, are even more far-fetched. Because of their relatively low price, uncomplicated sweet flavors, and a perceived silliness about them, sweet schnapps are a staple in many mixed drinks. While rarely seen in more traditional or serious mixed drinks like Martinis or Manhattans, various flavors abound in drinks with names like the Hot Peppermint Patty, the Slippery Nipple, the Fuzzy Navel, and the Guillotine.

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Discussion Comments

By anon87097 — On May 28, 2010

Schnapps! Even though I grew up in Northern Germany, northwest really, the meaning of 'Schnapps' in the families I remember had a connection with particular working class income groups, or farming communities, where the corner pups or the village inn with their round-tables (Stammtisch) or 'There' were places to gather, play cards, talk politics or plan strikes or other revolutionary measurements against dominance in power.

Ein Bier, ein Schnapps seemed to belong together like hand-in-glove. Schnapps was arrived at by fast distillation of low grade grain varieties. The miners would have a 'korn' and a beer; the 'korn' had a more yellow-brown color but both schnapps and korn were low cost alcoholic drinks, served in small glasses and the men would swallow the stuff in one shot-swallows.

I am not aware of the fact that other, finer and

multi-distilled brandies derived from pears, cherries, plums, enzian and apricots, even 'Herbal

(Krauter) liqueurs, distilled in monasteries,

fall under the classification of schnapps.

A Kirschwasser, Williams-Pear Brandy etc. called

schnapps is totally foreign to me. I envisioned

a misinterpretation by American and other occupying

GI's after WWII, spreading the wrong meaning of the 'common" people's 'get-high' drink (after all germany lost a war and everything was rationed) so, schnapps, now, is being offered in so many forms to a large market of trent-addicts.

It has become confusing to recognize it anymore as 'schnapps'.

By snappy — On Jan 14, 2010

Butterscotch sounds good!

I have heard of another unusual flavor, Juniper Schnapps. I'm not positive but I assume it's flavored with Juniper tree/shrub, which does not sound good to me, of course it's a German schnapps so it is not meant to be sweet.

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