The breathtaking Alpine flora not only offers an unforgettable nature experience, but also serves as a basis for countless schnapps and liquors. They present you with a traditional taste of the Alps that you most definitely shouldn’t miss. Unique herbal and fruit brandies have been produced regionally for centuries. This is just a small overview of 11 very special liquors of the Alps.
Absinthe is a classic among schnapps, which can now be found throughout the entire Alpine region. Traditionally, the spirit is made from wormwood, anise and fennel and, depending on the recipe, refined with various spices and herbs.
Absinthe is a drink that is enjoyed slowly and at leisure. Depending on the region and country the way of consumption varies. Many different absinthe rituals exist. Its origin however can be traced back to what is now the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel, where it has been produced since the middle of the 18th century. Due to its color, the alcohol is also known as “green fairy”. Hardly any other drink has such a mystical and famous reputation as absinthe. The intoxicating effect of the spirit is said to be due not only to the high alcohol content of 45-89% vol. but also to the neurotoxin thujone, which is a natural component of wormwood and supposedly causes hallucinations. Especially in the 19th century, the drink experienced its heyday and was popular among artists and writers. At the beginning of the 20th century, an absinthe ban was introduced because of the suspected damage to health, and in many places it was not allowed again until 1998 – in Switzerland, even as late as 2005. For all absinthe and history lovers, there is a 50-kilometer hike along the so-called Absinthe Road in Val-de-Travers, the birthplace of the green fairy, with culinary stops at distilleries and inns.
French Chartreuse is a household name among herbal liqueurs. It has been produced in a traditional way since the beginning of the 18th century in the mother monastery of the Carthusian Order – La Grande Chartreuse – north of Grenoble.
The secret recipe, is based on an even older one for an elixir of long life. In 1737, monks of the monastery rediscovered it and developed it further. This resulted in the two most famous varieties – Chartreuse Verte (green Chartreuse) and Chartreuse Jeune (yellow Chartreuse). Chartreuse is composed of marc, sugar and 130 different herbs and spices. Its aging period spans between five and eight years. The yellow variety, with an alcohol content of 40% by volume, is sweeter and milder than the 55% vol. green Chartreuse. Even today, the production is top secret and only two monks at a time know the recipe and the production process.
Another alpine spirit is gentian schnapps, an aromatic and bitter spirit made from the gentian root. Gentian has long been considered a medical plant and so the schnapps production can be traced back to the Middle Ages.
In the German, Austrian and Swiss Alpine regions, the 40-50% vol. spirit is a popular drink, which has the effect of a digestif. The gentian is considered a symbolic plant of the Alps and is under nature protection. In order to protect the population, there are strict regulations for the cutting of gentian or it is planted specifically. The oldest gentian distillery in Germany has existed since 1602 in Berchtesgaden.
The Appenzeller Alpenbitter is a sweet and bitter herbal liqueur, which is still to this day produced by a family owned business in a traditional way. The liqueur gets its special taste from 42 different herbs, but their exact composition is top secret.
However, a strong taste of gentian, juniper, anise and peppermint is clearly distinguishable. Since 1902, the 29% vol. alcohol has been produced in Appenzell and is very popular throughout Switzerland. Alpenbitter also acts as a digestif and is said to have a positive effect on health.
A specialty from the Basel region is the double-distilled Burgermeisterli, a clear herbal schnapps that has been produced since the end of the 18th century. The first time the schnapps was allegedly produced on the estate of the mayor (Bürgermeister) of Basel at the time, hence the name.
For the first round of distilling of Burgermeisterli a pome fruit or cherry schnapps is used, to which various herbs are subsequently added in the second round. The exact mixture of herbs varies from producer to producer and is kept secret. Oftentimes anise, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and fennel are added and then refined with white rock candy. The finished liquor has an alcohol content of 42% vol. Even today, Burgermeisterli is enjoyed mainly in the Basel region, being used as a summer drink mixed with water, or as a winter drink by adding mint and honey.
6. Bätzi Water
A lesser-known schnapps beyond the borders of the Swiss canton of Obwalden is Bätziwasser, a 40% vol. fruit brandy. The spirit has been produced for over 100 years, although the production process is quite complex.
For the Bätziwasser, the master distillers use dried apples rather than fresh ones. Hence the name, because in Oberwalden Bätzi means the core of an apple. In the meantime, the left over cores of apples are no longer collected, but today the schnapps is rather made from dried apple slices. Only regional products are used for this. Also important for the quality is the right storage time, which has to be at least over six months. After storage, the alcohol is diluted with water and filtered, so that it gets its clear character.
7. Brenzer Kirsch
The Brenzer Kirsch is a traditional Alpine cherry schnapps and a true rarity of central and northwestern Switzerland. Brenzer Kirsch is another word for Brennkirsche which translates to a cherry that is used for distilling. It is distilled as a cuvée, meaning from different varieties of the endangered tall cherry trees of the region.
Characteristic for the old cherry trees is that they grow particularly high and the aromatic fruits remain very small. The high-proof cherry brandy gets a delicious taste of marzipan, almonds, chocolate and cinnamon. Especially due to the import of distilling cherries from abroad, the quality of the Brenzer Kirsch and the tree population is threatened. Local distilleries are working to preserve the traditional schnapps.
8. Latschenlikör (Mountain pine liqueur)
An Austrian specialty from the Karwendel mountains is the mountain pine liqueur. Based on an old family recipe, it is now produced by a young start-up company. Each mountain pine cone is collected by hand, then opened, mixed with alcohol and left to mature for two months.
Since the mountain pine population is strictly protected, the distillery corporates with the Karwendel Nature Park. They received a special permit for using the cones. In addition, parts of the turnover are donated to the nature park for protection measures.
The Subirer is a traditional fruit brandy from Vorarlberg, which is distilled from the rare, regional Sau pear. The old pear variety is not edible as a fruit, but is all the more suitable for processing for spirits.
The selected pear schnapps is characterized by a delicious fine spicy citrus flavor. The alcohol content is 38-42% by volume. First distilled in 1928, Subirer enjoyed great popularity, especially after the Second World War. Until the 1990s, the trade name was not protected. In the meantime, however, the fruit brandy may only be produced in Vorarlberg.
10. Zirbengeist (Pine liqueur)
Similar to the mountain pine liqueur, Zirbengeist also has its origin in the Alpine forests of Austria. The young cones of the stone pines are laboriously collected by hand in summer. However, the cones can not be collected in all regions because in some places the stone pines are strictly protected.
After, the cones are soaked in fruit or grain schnapps, so that they give it a tart, resinous note. For the production of Zirbengeist, the liquid is then distilled. The schnapps, which is particularly popular in Tyrol, is not only enjoyed as a drink, but due to the essential oils of the cones it is also used to rub on tense muscles.
Génépi is a digestif with an alcohol content of 38% vol. that has enjoyed great popularity for several hundred years, especially in the French Alps and in northern Italy. The herbal liqueur has its origin in Aosta Valley where it’s made from the regionally growing black mugwort, which, like juniper used for absinthe, belongs to the genus Artemisia.
There is a great similarity between the two spirits. However, the difference is not only the duller olive-green, almost golden color of Génépi, but also the production process. The herbs in Génépi are macerated, that means crushed and not distilled. Its taste is characterized by a particular spiciness with a strong aroma. Compared to similar spirits, this herbal liqueur is also less sweet. The bottled Génépi also stands out in its appearance, because the branches of the protected black mugwort are characteristically added as decoration to the inside of the bottle of the green-gold liqueur.