What Is Schnapps?

Production, Types, and Recipes

Shot glass and bottles in front of open fire
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Schnapps is a type of distilled spirit. True schnapps is made by fermenting fruit juices along with the base liquor, so schnapps is considered a fruit brandy or eau de vie. The result of this schnapps process is a stronger and often clear distilled spirit, much like a lightly-flavored vodka. Schnapps in the United States is often used to describe a category of sweetened, fruit-flavored liqueurs. Instead of distilling the fruit, liqueurs are often made by steeping fruits in alcohol after fermentation and/or distillation. 

Fast Facts

Ingredients: A neutral grain spirit mixed with fruit syrup, spices, or other flavors

Proof: 30–40

ABV%: 15–20%

Calories in a Shot: 195

Origin: Germany

Taste: Heavily sweet

Aged: At least 6 weeks

Serve: Straight or mixed in drinks

What Is Schnapps Made From?

In America, schnapps is made by mixing neutral grain spirit with fruit syrup, spices, or other flavors. The grain could be rye, wheat, barley, oats, or buckwheat. Rye and wheat are the most popular. The various flavors produce different types of schnapps. In the United States, schnapps is used to describe a category of liquors that have often been on the lower end of the quality spectrum. There are exceptions and good schnapps can be found at a higher price. The alcohol content of schnapps can range between 15% and 25% ABV (30 to 50 proof) depending on the brand.

What Does Schnapps Taste Like?

Schnapps comes in a wide variety of flavors and it's great to use in mixed drinks. Apple, butterscotch, cinnamon, peach, and peppermint are by far the most popular schnapps flavors in the bar. American schnapps is often drier than their sweet liqueur counterparts. For example, peppermint schnapps is not as sweet as creme de menthe.

Flavors

Some schnapps uses a mix of flavors, others can be considered outlandish, and a few can be tart, bitter, and not the best to mix with. If you prefer, a liqueur of the same flavor can be used as a substitute for schnapps, but it's important to remember that often (though not always) the liqueur is sweeter. You may have to make some adjustments to the recipe to compensate for this:

How to Drink Schnapps

Schnapps is a versatile drink and can be enjoyed room temperature, cold, on ice, or mixed into a drink. Since there are so many flavors of schnapps, think about the season and how you want to enjoy your beverage. For example, peppermint schnapps could be the perfect addition to a warm hot chocolate on a cold winter day while peach schnapps goes great mixed into a fruity cocktail at a summer BBQ.

Cocktail Recipes

Try some of these seasonal recipes that include different flavors of schnapps:

Popular Brands

Many drink recipes that call for schnapps refer to the North American definition. When it comes to those, these brands are the most popular:

  • 99
  • Arrow
  • DeKuyper
  • Dr. McGillicuddy
  • Hiram Walker

Even in this category, all schnapps are not created equal and you often get what you pay for. Shop smart and fork over a few extra dollars to improve your drinks.

European Schnapps vs. American Schnapps

The German word for schnapps drops one "p" and translates into English to mean hard liquor, booze, and the like. Schnaps is used to describe any strong distilled spirit, particularly those of at least 32% ABV (64 proof). The word also comes with a loose translation of "snap," referring to the strength of the spirits.

While schnaps can technically refer to any liquor, it is often used for fruit brandies distilled from fresh fruit juices. These are often called Obstler, or fruit schnaps. Apple, apricot, cherry, pear, and plum are the most popular flavors and many distillers grow their own fruit for their schnaps.

Schnaps is most popular in Germany, where it originated for medicinal uses. Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland are also big on the schnaps. European drinkers rarely mix their schnaps into cocktails, opting instead to enjoy it straight out of the bottle and often before or after a meal.

This is quite different, as American schnapps tend to be much sweeter and are often used as a mixer because of the strong, and usually sweet, flavor.

An illustration comparing American and European Schnapps
 The Spruce / Colleen Tighe

Where to Buy Schnapps

If you're looking for the German equivalent to schnaps in the U.S., seek fruit brandies instead. Many craft distillers are producing excellent bottles of apple, apricot, and other flavored brandy that rival many European schnaps. Do be wary of brandies that have sweeteners; these are not true brandies and are instead liqueurs (or closer to the American definition of schnapps). American schnapps is sold at most liquor stores.