Making a case for schnaps

It may have an uneven reputation, but seek out authentic schnaps and you’ll find a clean, fruity liqueur that can invigorate a classic cocktail.

By Zane Henry
Published 30 Dec 2019, 18:00 GMT
A fruit schnaps is poured into a shot glass at the Apple Blossom festival in Puch near Weiz, Austria.
Photograph by Alamy

Schnaps — that sickly sweet stuff?

Well, yes and no. Schnaps has earned a reputation in the UK as the drink of the young and impressionable who don’t like the taste of alcohol. But the real stuff is a whole different kettle of booze.

I see. Go on…

Those avowedly artificial, saccharine liqueurs (usually American, and spelled ‘schnapps’) gained infamy as the basis for cocktails such as sex on the beach and fuzzy navel, as well as being go-to shots. They’re generally made by mixing neutral grain spirit with fruity or herbal syrups (butterscotch, peach or peppermint, for example). Traditional and artisanal schnaps tend to be drier and have more complex flavour profiles.

So, what is ‘proper’ schnaps?

Schnaps is a broad-purpose term, applying to any number of strong alcoholic spirits. It’s essentially an eau de vie — a clear brandy made by mashing up fruit and distilling it to a clear spirit with clean, fruity flavours. There are some that are more herbal or vegetal in character, but traditional German and Austrian schnaps are usually made from pears, apricot, apples, plums or cherries.

So it’s worth a try?

Definitely — although with schnaps it pays to go for the  good stuff. High-quality versions should have a clean, clear flavour profile with a big boozy kick — swinging between 20% and 40% ABV. It’s great in cocktails, adding punches of flavour to classic concoctions. You can experiment by adding a spoonful of a pear schnaps, such as Williamine, to a dry vodka martini, or a dash of Rochelt Morello Cherry to perk up a rye Manhattan. And if you still crave a sex on the beach or a fuzzy navel, then why not treat yourself by using Teichenné Peach and freshly squeezed fruit juice? 

How to make it: Apple martini

There are a multitude of recipes for this drink, which was created in Hollywood in the 1990s

45ml Ketel One vodka
30ml Berentzen Apple Schnapps
60ml apple juice

1  Shake all the ingredients with ice.
2  Fine strain into a chilled martini glass.

III Draakon, a themed restaurant in Tallinn that pairs traditional Estonian schnaps with old-school fare. 
Photograph by

Where to try it

III Draakon, Tallinn
Embrace the wilfully theatrical medieval shtick at this themed restaurant, by pairing traditional Estonian schnaps with old-school fare, including elk soup, pickled gherkins and ox sausages. 

Stein’s, London
This Bavarian restaurant in Kingston upon Thames has a great selection of schnaps. For a good overview, opt for the Stein’s Probierbrettl — six 20ml samples served on a wooden board. 

Landstein, Vienna
A Viennese institution, Landstein serves traditional Austrian dishes, as well as Central European cuisine, but the big draw is the staggering selection of alcohol on offer — including a formidable schnaps collection. 

Published in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller Food

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