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European alchemists first called the alcoholic distillation known as “schnapps,” which they thought would be a cure-all, “the elixir of life.” Spirits are one of the most traditional forms of beverage, made since antiquity in the Middle East, brought to the West during the crusades and having changed little since then.

Schnapps is a spirit which has been popular for a long time. It comes in a variety of flavors and can be made from many different ingredients. In this article, we will arm you with the knowledge you need to identify the best schnapps varieties to give as gifts or enjoy at home.

Key Facts

  • Spirits were first made by Arab alchemists as an alcoholic base for perfumes. The first Eastern alchemists who learned distillation used it to extract the “spirit” from wines. It is thought that the first spirits were used for medicinal purposes.
  • Some spirits are not only a drink but are also used as a base for other beverages and liqueurs. Schnapps and other spirits are made by the distillation of different plants, fruits and vegetables.
  • The product in the first and last steps in the distillation process are not suitable for human consumption. These are called the head and the tail, function as by-products and are often used to make other food or industrial products.
  • These beverages are classified based on the raw ingredients used for distillation of the original “mash.” Rum, tequila, whisky, whiskey and vodka are types of spirits.

Shopping Guide: What You Need to Know About Schnapps

Schnapps is a traditional alcoholic beverage, which has been produced for centuries. Today there is a wide variety of schnapps available on the market, including different styles, brands and flavors. To help you understand more about schnapps, we’ve prepared a shopping guide with the most frequently asked questions below.

Schnapps is a spirit with very few calories, thanks to the distillation process which eliminates most of the sugars.
(Source: Vasin Leenanuruksa: 100105651/

What is schnapps?

Schnapps is made through a distillation process which facilitates the fermentation of alcohol. The process for producing schnapps varies, and although it is often made with grain alcohol, distillation of fruits and herbs can also be used. Otherwise, flavors are added later in the process by using fruit syrup, spices and other flavorings.

The term “schnapps” can refer to a range of different alcoholic spirits. It is typically between 15 and 20 per cent alcohol (30 to 40 proof), but it can be much stronger.  In the United States the word “schnapps” is often associated solely with liqueurs that are quite often artificially colored and flavored, but it’s traditional meaning is more often associated with plant products in their natural state.

In Germany, the word “schnapps” refers to any kind of strong alcoholic drink, similar to “eau de vie” in French or “aguardente” in Spanish.

Where does schnapps come from?

Strong spirits like those used as a base for schnapps were originally distilled as an alcohol base to be used in manufacturing perfume. The art of distilling alcohol from vegetables, grains and fruits began in the Middle East and spread to Europe via Spain during the Moorish invasion. At that time, Arabic alchemists brought the art of distillation to the European continent. Following that, Spaniard Arnau de Vilanova is credited with inventing the process of distilling alcoholic drinks.

Schnapps typically contains between 30% and 45% alcohol. Otherwise, it cannot be properly called “Schnapps.”
(Source: Andrey Kiselev: 43906369/

What is special about schnapps?

Arnau Vilanova and his student Ramón Llull were looking for the “elixir of life” when they distilled their first alcoholic spirit. They decided to empty a wine bottle into the still in order to extract its essence. This produced a colorless substance, which when drunk caused euphoria, seemingly proving his theory.

Ezio FalconiFamous mixologist
“Spirits prolong our lives, that is why they deserve to be called the “elixir of life.”

How is schnapps classified?

One of the most common ways to classify schnapps is according to its raw ingredients. Fruit brandies, as their name suggests, are a type of schnapps made from fruit. On the other hand, a popular German form of schnapps called Kräuterlikör is herb-based, and includes the popular brand Jägermeister. Whisky and Whiskey can be considered as a form of schnapps made from grain, rum as one made from sugar cane, and tequila as schnapps made from the agave plant.

Many spirits do not have a particular name but are rather referred to according to their key ingredients. Palm liqueur is an example of this.

What types of schnapps are available?

As we’ve already mentioned, the most common types of schnapps spirits are rum, brandy, whisky and tequila. More broadly, there are also spirits made from grains, apple and apricot, the latter being very popular in Central Europe. In the East, it is common to make spirits from palm and rice extracts, although we consider them “exotic.”

Other spirits which are common in Asia are made from fermenting milk, for example “tuba,” “buri” or Mongolian brandy. Some schnaps have the suffix “arrac,” a very broad term which covers any kind of exotic spirit.

Below is a table of the most common schnapps, spirits and liqueurs:

Type Ingredient Color Manufacture Characteristics
Pear Brandy Pears Clear Fermented inside the bottle or in steel tanks. Does not spoil. Some add the pear to the bottle, others apply the bottle to the pear while it is growing.
Plum brandy Plum Red Made with a variety of plums depending on where it is made. Sweet liqueur.
Juniper spirit Juniper berries Clear Gin is a common example. Also called Anise, from the province of Alsace in France.
Apple brandy Apple Clear or amber. Distilled like cider and aged in an oak barrel. Two types: cider or apple spirit.
Grape brandy Grapes and wines. White if it is wine. Amber if it is brandy. Distillation of wine. Fermentation process produces grape brandy. Known as brandy or cognac.
Grain spirits Various types of cereals and grains. Clear or amber. Fermented from a paste of crushed cereals, grains and sugars. Depending on the raw ingredients, may be: whisky, sake, or vodka.
Cherry brandy Cherries and sour cherries. Dark Fruit and leaves are crushed together, then fermented and distilled. Best known variety is “maraschino”.
Tequila Blue agave and American agave. Clear Amber when aged. The agave is cooked and fermented, then distilled and aged in oak barrels.
Sugar cane spirits Sugar cane and molasses. Dark Made from crushed sugar cane. The pulp is then fermented and distilled. Called rum when made from sugar cane.

What are the characteristics of schnapps?

Schnapps and other spirits were originally distilled as a remedy for illnesses. 100 grams of spirits typically contains iron, calcium and Vitamin K. It is also low in salt, and so can be consumed on most diets. Many pure spirits have few calories, although some forms of schnapps are sweetened and therefore may have a higher amount of calories.

Schnapps is typically enjoyed after a large meal, to aid digestion. It has also long been used to improve circulation, calm nerves and ease stress.

Did you know that spirits can alleviate coughs and other symptoms of the flu?

What is the percentage of alcohol in Schnapps?

The percentage of alcohol in schnapps depends on the type and composition. What we call Schnapps in the United States generally contains between 10 and 20% alcohol. Other spirits can have an alcohol concentration of between 30 and 45%. Some very strong spirits, like vodka, may be up to 60 or even 75% alcohol.

Although schnapps is a spirit in itself, it can be used as a base for other spirits.
(Source: Jacek Nowak: 26122709/

Spirits as a base for other alcoholic beverages.

Although spirits are beverages themselves, some are used as a base for other alcoholic drinks and liqueurs. This is because many spirits do not have any flavor, aroma, or even color. This makes them ideal for use as a base for other beverages.

You can buy spirits which are designed to be used specifically as a base for other liqueurs. These are different from those you’ll typically find in the liquor store, as they are not suitable for consumption without modification, they don’t have any flavor and are very strong.

Samuel JohnsonEnglish poet, essayist and literary critic
“Claret is a drink for boys; Port is for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink Brandy.”

How long does an open bottle of schnapps last if stored properly?

Some spirits, such as whisky or vodka can be kept for a long time after being opened. If the bottle is sealed, it can last for years. To maintain its freshness for as long as possible, it is important that the bottle remain sealed and is stored vertically in a cool, dark place and away from sunlight, as this can affect the taste.

Other spirits such as milky liqueurs don’t last nearly as long. These needed be refrigerated with the cap tightly closed. These kinds of spirits usually have a printed expiration date.

How should I drink schnapps?

Schnapps can be very versatile drinks. they can be enjoyed neat, at room temperature, which is how it is consumed traditionally, or you can drink it on ice. Normally, spirits and liqueurs are drunk at the end of a meal, along with coffee, as they are said to help with digestion after a big meal. They can also be mixed with other ingredients to create endless options for cocktails.

To make schnapps, sugar cane is crushed and the mash is then fermented and distilled.
(Source: Phonlawat Chaicheevinlikit: 48119343/

What goes well with schnapps?

The best thing to have with schnapps is dessert, as it goes well with all kinds of sweets and cakes. Schnapps and other liqueurs complement the flavour of cakes, pastries, cookies, desserts, pies and many other sweet delights. They are also perfect for drinking with coffee.

Shopping Criteria

As you have already seen, there are a wide variety of spirits and liqueurs available on the market these days. This variety reflects different distillation methods, ingredients and end flavors. Schnapps and other spirits are complex products, so to help you choose the right one, we have outlined the most important criteria to consider when making a purchase.


The presentation of an alcoholic beverage says a lot about the beverage. Not only because the bottle designs can be quite beautiful, but design is part of the appeal before and after purchase. Reputable distilleries are committed to quality in every aspect, and package design is one of them. As with many things, a quality spirit enters first through the eye and then through the mouth. Each time you present the bottle in the home sets the mood for the occasion.

The most popular brands have very professional designs and interestingly shaped bottles. The labels are usually very distinctive, and may describe the history or background of the distillery. Of course, there are some brands which present their product in luxury packaging without this really representing the quality of the drink itself.  The best products have been on the market for many years and remain popular beyond their packaging design.

Schnapps is a traditional spirit, and one of the first known distilled drinks.
(Source: Ersler Dmitry: 46484711/


Some distilleries have a long tradition of making great spirits. In Mexico, for example, we find the 10 most famous tequila houses. This is an important aspect to note, as many of the best spirits come from the most famous distilleries.

Today there are so many options for schnapps and other beverages available, you can browse through hundreds of wineries and distilleries. Our recommendation is that you choose one from a distillery with a long tradition since they have years of experience and often use family recipes which have been passed from parents to children.

Did you know that Schnapps has a percentage of alcohol between 10 and 20%?

Pure or Mixture

Pure spirits are made from a single raw material. In the market, you will find fruit- cereal- and vegetable-based spirits. These are traditional, light colored, full-bodied spirits. They are high in alcohol and are usually enjoyed after meals as liquers.

Mixed spirits are distilled with other elements. The most common type is that made with anise, such as Sambuca. There are also fruity combinations such as plum or apricot brandies. Some mixed spirits are made from juniper berries, which are the main component in gin, and some other exotic spirits are milk-based.

Type of Spirit

As previoulsy mentioned, there are almost endless varieties of spirits. The easiest way to categorize them is according to their main ingredients. One example is rice spirits, which are typical of Asia, such as sake or soju. In the West, the most common spirits are wines or those made from grains.

As we have seen, there is a wide range of schnapps available. This reflects the range of different distillation processes, raw materials and flavors.
(Source: Mark Bowden: 42311861/

Sweet or Dry

Generally, spirits are distilled without added sugars. Pure spirits are a type of alcohol with very few calories and which, through the distillation processes, all sugars are eliminated. These drier spirits are more natural, are made with traditional recipes and contain organic plants.

Other spirits, such as tequila or rum, do contain sugar. There are also derivatives of schnapps and brandy with sugars added after the fermentation and distillation process. These drinks can be very tasty, but are less traditional and less natural.


Spirits usually contain between 30% and 45% volume of alcohol, although the term “aguardiente” can refer to practically any beverage with a high alcohol content. Some spirits can reach 75% alcohol.

Be sure to check the alcohol content before buying any spirit or liqueur. If you plan to drink it on its own, or mixed for a cokctail. The best strengths for every day use are those that have between 30 and 45% alcohol, more than that can be to strong fo most peoples’ tastes.


Although spirits can be consumed neat, on their own, they can also used as a base to add to other distilled liquors. If you plan to do this, choose a distilled base designed for this purpose, since it will be much cheaper than commercially sold versions, as they have no taste or smell and are made for that purpose.


Schnapps is the oldest distilled drink known to man. It is a traditional liquor that is made from the fermentation and distillation of organic products. It is a spirit drink that is drunk around the world, especially as a final “digestive” after a big meal, as it helps with digestion.

These days you can find a wide variety of spirits on the market. The simple ones are made from a single raw ingredient such as grapes or grain. Mixed spirits are usually sweeter and are used as a base for another liqueur or wine. In this article, we have explained how to find and select the best spirit on the market, based on your tastes and preferences. Cheers!

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(Featured Image Source: Tadeusz Wejkszo: 29571911/

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