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Distilling The Myth About Schnaps

Schnaps has weathered a reputation which speaks nothing to the history or artistry of its making. More commonly regarded as the shot of choice by college co-eds, schnaps remains misunderstood. Like the great aquavits. eau-de-vies, and grappas of the world, schnaps is a category of clear, distilled spirits. In Austria and Germany its the tradition to savor this jewel like spirit at the edge of a mountain end of a meal. The hot finish takes nothing like the sweetened "flavored schnapps" of North America. As amazing as it may seen to think of schnaps as a quality digestif.

Austrian find it equally absurd that such a fine liquor would be consumed in repeated gulps for a quick "buzz" the equivalent of doing NyQuil shots. Most likely the sugary adulteration of the traditional beverage was created in part to mellow the strength an smoldering nature of schnaps. But thanks to a new breed of distil quality spirits are being enjoys core often by those who were nor weaned on high-Proof elixirs. In addition to dispelling the stigmative attached to the schnaps, fruit distiller and vinegar maker Alois Golles is revolutionizing the tradition of distilling and in the process dispelly many misconceptions about the dynamic nectar.

Reinventing Tradition

Years ago the polyest quality fruit, left over from barrest was mashed and distilled. It was believed that the distilling process would 'cleanse' any immunities because even rotten fruit yield a clear distillate. Though his practice made sense economic it made for a beverage with a prety punch. For centuries the distiling process remained unquestioned. Perhaps it is the renewed appeal of cocktails and quality liquor maybe it is the effect of growing up in Austria's orchard,' that brought attention to the unique aquavitaes. whatever the reason beverage aficionados owe a Great debt Alots Golles for his contributions to the world of distilling. Educated as a wine maker. Alois Golles started making schnaps in 1979 and vinegar in 1984. "My father had orchards but did not process the fruits, he just delivered them fresh," Golles recalls. "When I graduated. I returned to Riegersburg and was very interested in making wine."

But his land is not in a typical win growing region so Golles started with fruit wines, fruit juice, and schnaps. "Very early we saw that fruit wine was not a big business and our production of apple juice was nor large enough for us to compete with big corporations" Golles explains. The distillates however were a different story and he turned his attention exclusively to his schnaps production. Golles quickly discovered that the quality of the fruit has a direct impact on the final product. "It doesn't matter if you make vinegar, fruit distillates, juice, or wine, if the fruit is nor really, really good you will never get a high quality product," he insists. Styria, the region where Golles produces his schnaps and 100% fruit vinegars, provides over 60% of the country's total fruit and vegetable supply. Hot, sunny days and cool nights are ideal for developing the full flavors and sugars required. "We have a big advantage," Golles admits, "we are in the middle of more than 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres) of orch ards. I can buy a lot of good fruit from local farmers. We also grow some older varieties on our property which can't be found in the market. Saubirner pears or 'pig pears' and Maschansker apples for example, are not so great for eating out-of hand but make very good raw material for schnaps and vinegar." It is the high acid content and the abundance of polyphenols (chemical compounds which contribute to flavor and aroma) which translate into a spirit with deeper color. fuller flavor, and heady aromas.

The idea of using unblemished fruit was a dramatic change in distilling philosophy and price. "It took from 1979 to 1985 for people to realize it must be like this," Golles estimates. "But today that is way things are done to Produce the best. If you use waste you can make cheep brandy, but it wont taste the same as our product." Though Golles has received accolades from peers in the business, he is hesitant to jump into the commercial market which can be very competitive and require trendy selling tactics. Instead, he prefers to grow steadily so that those who enjoy his product will fully understand its nature. "I use the term 'schnaps' when speaking about my product." Golles explains. "because I don't want to use special words like. special brandy' or 'noble-wine brandy.' If it is a good then it is good and I will not have to explain that it is tremendous good." Colles has become one of the most respected schnaps producers in Austria not only for his complex line of fifteen different schnaps but also for his knowledge on the distillation process. "We never entered this business wanting to come up with crazy gift or souvenir bottles," Golles admits. We want to grow slowly. We want to be around in ten years." "Part of achieving this goal is to spend time speaking with those who visit the distillery and to support the network of schnaps producers.

The Tulip

Some importers, like Manfred lauer of Wienbauer in Chicago, believe schnaps is slowly gaining acceptance as a special occasion drink but still needs to be up-sold. "We still have big obstacles to over-come in trying to self schnap." Contends Mr. Bauer, who imports his own line. Nannerl. "Americans haven't acquired a taste for Europeon distilled sprits," Baner confides But then again the way in which it is consumed is so much a part of the presentation." When Nannerl Baucer Company try to steer its customers away from using shot glasses. "We try to encourage chilling the schnaps like a martini and serving it in a snifter." Golles too believes the presentation is very much a part of enjoying schnaps. In 1995 Golles and the Riedel crystal company worked together to develop an appropriate shape for schnaps glasses. After trying several attempts the tulip shape proved to be the most complimentary. The slender bulb allows just enough space for the spirit to breath and the opening is just large enough to let the aro mas gradually escape but not overwhelm the nose when sipping.

Even with the advances in the distilling and service of schnaps, it is eldom appreciated outside of Germany and Austria. Golles tresses that the many different styles of schnaps, each with its own distinct character is a good step towards introducing it to the outside world. "Competition is important. It keeps people interested and learning about the style of each producer." Golles believes. "We would rather find our niche of people who enjoy our way of distilling. I mean we can't appeal to every one."

The Golles Distillation Process

1. The fruit pulp and peels are mashed together.

2. The mash is gradually heated then slowly cooled to allow for a slow fermentation.

3. The first distillation is called "raw," The second distillation, "shine."

4. The best of the fermented juice is selected based on smell and flavor. If the liquid is too strong it will have a "nose burn." The lesser quality juice is sold to other distillers and the preferred juice is transferred to glass "balloon" turns. These eight gallon neutral containers allow the schanps to age for one to two years. During this time, condensation, which naturally occurs in the urns, blends with and mellows the flavor of the schnaps.

5. The schanp is bottled and set aside for two to three weeks before selling.

6. Apple and plum Schnans are aged in oak for an additional seven years before being bottled. Oak aging is designated on the bottle by the term "alder."

Golles rules

* Use fruit that would be good to eat out of hand.

* Freshness and aroma matter.

* Before crushing, the fruit is separated for quality and the stems, leaves, seeds, and pits are removed.

* Fermentation should be a slow process to extract optimum aroma. Impurities are removed by distilling the juice twice.

* Mature the final schnaps to develop complexity before bottling.

* The schnaps is made from 100% natural fruit, no additives, sugards, or aromas.

* Schnaps should settle in the bottle for 2-3 weeks before drinking.

* Schnaps should be served at 59-68 degrees in a tulip shaped glass.
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Publication:Art Culinaire
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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