Beverly Hills’ new Austrian star is BierBeisl. The restaurant and its chef got some serious love from the L.A. Times this weekend. (See Los Angeles magazine’s take here!) The schnitzel is grand, but it was the schnapps bar that really got our attention. Full disclosure: Our primary schnapps experiences have been limited to tossing back shots of the peach version before prom. Our prom. To beef up our knowledge of the sweet spirit, we asked BeirBeisl chef/co-owner, Austrian native, and schnapps swiller Bernhard Mairinger for a basic primer on Austria’s favorite hard stuff.
What is Schnapps?
Schnapps is the generic term for all clear brandies distilled from fermented fruits with no sugar or fragrances added. For Schnapps, the mashing and fermentation are carried out immediately after harvest. Fermentation takes place at carefully controlled temperatures before the mash undergoes double distillation in a copper pot still. Then it’s quickly bottled to preserve the freshness and aroma. Alcohol content is high, usually 64 proof.
When are you supposed to drink it?
Schnapps is usually offered after dinner. It’s served at room temperature in small (1 to 2 ounce) tulip-shaped glass flutes which are designed to ensure the full nose and taste of the fruits. Schnapps should be sipped slowly. Traditionally, schnapps was offered as a way to seal an agreement and as a gesture of friendship. Of course, for those living in the mountain and ski areas of Austria, Schnapps helps them to stay warm, which gives them a nice excuse to carry a flask at all times.
What are the traditional flavors?
The fruits mainly used are apples, apricots, pears, plums, and cherries. At BierBeisl we feature the classic flavors such as Apricot, Williams Pear, Plum, Cherry as well as the rarely produced Rowanberry, Raspberry, and Wild Cherry, which are known for their distinct flavor by Schnapps lovers and connoisseurs worldwide.
What’s your favorite?
My favorites are probably Williams Pear, Old Plum, Apricot, and Rowanberry. It all depends on the meal I had!
Is it supposed to be sweet?
Schnapps is actually not supposed to be sweet at all. Many American commercial brands claiming to be Schnapps are heavily sweetened. True Austrian schnapps relies on the sweetness that comes from natural fermentation of fruit.
Does it pair well with food?
It actually does, just with certain dishes. It is used in quite a few traditional Austrian recipes—most of them are desserts or pastries. Because of the high percentage of alcohol, Schnapps is rarely ever paired to a full menu.
When did you first have Schnapps?
If I remember correctly I had my first sip of Schnapps when I was 15. It was during one of our ski trips, when a family friend let us take a sip while our parents were caught up in a conversation with somebody else. It definitely didn't taste good back than! It took me at least another five years to understand and appreciate a high quality Schnapps, such as the Reisetbauer brandies.
So, why a whole schnapps bar?
At BierBeisl we strive for authenticity in our food and drink so it is important to end a proper meal with a glass of true Austrian schnapps to ensure the complete experience. It is also something that is completely misunderstood and underrated. I am proud to introduce Angelenos to the fine tradition of drinking and enjoying genuine Austrian Schnapps. BierBeisl has partnered with Hans Reisetbauer and Alois Goelles, two of the best known and awarded-winning Austrian distilleries known for producing schnapps using more than 80 percent home-grown, natural and organic fruits. For me, making schnapps is comparable to preparing an exquisite meal; it requires the best ingredients, a treasured recipe and an expert to oversee the process to honor the origin of each distinctive flavor.