Readings on Schnapps and Tyranny

This week I’m reviewing Peter Ross Range’s “1924: The Year that Made Hitler” – a dark history that overshadows the vibrant culture of Germany including, of course, its rich alcohol tradition. When most people think of Germany and alcohol, they think of schnapps. I had no idea what schnapps actually was before I started writing this entry, so I did a little reading into its history and was interested to learn that genuine German schnapps doesn’t include sugar and is similar to the French line of unsweetened fruit brandy called Eau De Vie. I liked Dan Murphy’s description of how the drink is made in Europe:

The process of making Schnapps in northern Europe, particularly Austria, is a custom that has changed little over the years. Fresh fruit, grains or herbs—from apples and berries, to cardamom pods and cloves—are mashed or placed in a glass bottle to provide the flavour.

A strong, clear liquor, such as Vodka or Gin, is then distilled into the flavouring ingredients and left to steep for two days. Water is added to lower the alcohol content and make the spirit palatable. The result is a sharp and intense spirit that leaves lasting aromas of fruit swirling in your mouth.

I’d love to be a purist and just use the German variety of schnapps, but I happened to have a bottle of old fashioned sugar-soaked American peach schnapps handy, so I thought I’d give some simple and light cocktails a try.

I was excited to make the “White Carnation” but was crestfallen to realize that I was out of orange juice. In a pinch, I used some cointreau, which did not work. Still, I liked the weight of the cream and the peach schnapps and could tell how well it would team with orange juice, that savory dairy taste colliding with the bright citrus. Next time. I then tried the “Blushing Bride” which was a wonderfully sweet and poppy cocktail. The schnapps flavor rolls beautifully here with that echo of fruity sweetness from my home-made grenadine. And then champagne makes everything better. I tasted this and realized I had been wasting a lot of my time with mimosas – next brunch, I’m pouring these.

White Carnation

  • 1.5 oz Reyka vodka
  • 1.5 oz orange juice
  • .5 oz Barton peach schnapps
  • Fill with soda water
  • Splash of cream

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Blushing Bride

  • .75 oz grenadine
  • .75 oz Barton peach schnapps
  • Fill with champagne

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Doing some more research on German liquors and schnapps, I came upon the Berentzen company. Founded in Germany in 1758, Berentzen has an interesting history, surviving two World Wars and various economic downturns to eventually invent and produce a popular apple schnapps or “apfelkorn” in the 1970s. Apfelkorn is considered schnapps but is extra sweet and has about half the alcohol content. The more you know! Via Berentzen’s handy website I found the recipe for an “Apple Sour” with vodka and lemon juice. This was ok but I didn’t think the apple popped that well – perhaps as Americans we’re too used to sugary, rich flavors that make a cocktail into an ice cream sunday. The apple is there but isn’t strong, and the overall taste is just sort of dull.

Apple Sour

  • 1.25 oz Berentzen Apple
  • 1.25 oz Reyka Vodka
  • 1 oz Lemon Juice
  • Fill with club soda

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Switching themes, much of Range’s narrative takes place in Bavaria, the large German state home to Oktoberfest. So I took a look around the internet, hunting and pecking for cocktail recipes that find their origins there and came up with the “Bavarian Wild Berry Cosmopolitan,” a drink that utilizes tea as a base. This was excellent, I loved the tartness of the pomegranate juice and the berry tea which lines up so well with the lime and orange off the cointreau. Just heavy enough for winter, this was a great long drink for a cold February evening.

Bavarian Wild Berry Cosmopolitan

  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 3 Lipton Bavarian Wild Berry Pyramid Tea Bags
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 oz pomegranate juice
  • 1 oz Reyka vodka
  • .5 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz cointreau

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Peter Ross Range’s new micro-biography is a solid and accessible history of a pivotal year in the life of Hitler and European history. I’ve read dozens of Hitler biographies and books on the Third Reich, so many of the events were known to me, but Range is an exceptional writer and offers some interesting insights that make the book worth reading for experts. His narrative excels when describing Hitler away from the adoring crowds and reporters, using the accounts of close confidants and other observers. The picture that emerges of a deeply disturbed but relentlessly driven fanatic is rendered well here. The high-drama of the Beer Hall putsch and feverish political battles that preceded it are also described in exciting detail. The book is less engrossing when addressing the farcical court case which Hitler quickly turned to his advantage; here, the story gets mired down a bit in legalisms. All in all, 1924 is a quality addition to Third Reich scholarship that should prove intriguing to casual readers.

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