What happens when you distill beer? Well, whiskey starts out with the same basic raw ingredients as beer, so what happens when you take actual beer and distill it? The answer is an 80 proof beer schnapps. Dave Classick formed Essential Spirits of Mountain View, CA, with his wife, Andrea Mirenda, after a European vacation during which they discovered schnapps. They stumbled across the fact that many German brewers produce schnapps from beer, but laws severely limit the quantity that can be produced. This means that most schnapps never makes it to the commercial market. When they returned, they visited several California spirit makers and “Germain-Robin really inspired us,” Classick said. “Most people don’t know what beer schnapps is,” Classick said. “We distill beer into an 80 proof product that has the flavor profile of beer. It’s not a sweet schnapps. It’s not peach or peppermint. It’s a European schnapps.” Classick Original American Bierschnaps is the result. Designed to be served cold, it has the flavor profile of a single malt whisky at room temperature. In trying to explain the product to regulators and customers, Classick uses terms like “eau de vie de biere” and “grappa di bier.” “We use an alambic still. It preserves the flavors and soft characteristics of the beer. It’s kind of like spinning straw into gold,” Classick said. “We live in one of the great fruit and wine regions of the world and we don’t have the alambics like in Europe. With the coffee roasters and microbrewers in this area, we think this idea is a natural.” Classick runs a 40-barrel brew house to produce the beer used in his product. There is no bright tank or secondary fermentation necessary before distilling. The end product is carbon filtered and stored in stainless steel tanks before bottling. Essential Spirits also has a licensing agreement with Sierra Nevada Brewing to produce a schnapps using that company’s pale ale. Classick and Mirenda still hold down their Silicon Valley jobs but expect to turn out 5,000 to 10,000 cases a year of their product, which sells for $35 a 750-ml bottle. It is available primarily in California.
Rick Lyke is a drinks journalist based in Charlotte, NC.