The Joy of Schnappes
by Anne Cortissoz
During our trip through the breweries of Bavaria, I found a new love. It wasn’t a weizen or a black lager or even an eisbock. The object of my affection—my traveling companions saw it as an obsession—was schnapps. I’m not talking about the nasty, syrupy peppermint liqueur that finds its way into mugs of hot chocolate. The classic German schnapps is distilled from fermented corn mash, but can also be distilled from fermented fruit and from beer. Definitions vary, with some sources asserting that the drink shouldn’t contain any added sugar, and others counting sweet fruit liqueur as schnapps, too.
The schnapps that turned my head is a strong drink full of flavor but not in the least bit sweet, with a clean character and alcohol bite, and a finish that leaves your palate ready for more. I had my first taste of this amazing liquid at the Ayinger brewery, where they produce a pear schnapps that tastes like cool, fragrant, ripe fruit, but without the sugar. At the Schlenkerla brewery in Bamberg, we were served a really lovely example of beer schnapps, made from fermented rauchbier wort. This had a delicate smokiness, not unlike a single malt Scotch.
I was hooked, and I bought schnapps at just about every stop we made; my suitcase was rattling with bottles on the trip back. There were some disappointments, including a sickly sweet Quitten Likor (though the name alone made it worth bringing home). And though I tossed the Quitten Likor immediately, the Ayinger pear schnapps and the Schlenkerla beer schnapps will be much harder to quit.
Bavaria’s Brewing Monks
by Tom Dalldorf
Many of our brewing traditions are derived from the women, nuns and monks of the Middle Ages, whose daily chores included making beer. Indeed, it was our early ecclesiastical zymurgists who, when confronted with extended periods of fasting, came up with richly flavorful and nutritious high-gravity bocks and doppelbocks. Paulaner’s Salvator survives as the prime example.
Brewing monks and nuns continue to engage in commercial brewing today in parts of Europe, including Germany’s most famous brewing region of Bavaria. Our group visited two such religious breweries near Munich. Both required a bit of expended physical excursion to reach the prized brewing sites.
Andechs Benedictine monastery brewery is situated on a “holy mountain” with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and the alps. One of the brothers (dressed in medieval robes but sporting a very contemporary “soul patch” below his lip) greeted us and gave us a short history of the brewery, which dates from 1455. After a tour of its ancient church, we were treated to a complete taster set of beers currently on offer, including the heavenly Andechser Dunkel.
When Benedictine monks established the Weltenburger Kloster on the banks of the beautiful Danube River nearly a thousand years ago, they failed to foresee the need for tour bus access to the brewery. Our hearty band of beer journalists walked the several kilometers necessary to reach the cluster of buildings including the brewery and its adjacent church (its superb acoustics amply demonstrated by our singing tour-guide padre). The beers of Weltenburg were excellent, but most memorable was the Barock Dunkel served from cask in the caves where it matured.