Schnaps is one of those things that many people associated with Austria. And Austrians love it. Whether they’re taking it for medicinal purposes, using it as a digestive at the end of the meal or just celebrating, you can expect it to have it offered to you if you’re in the country. Now keep in mind that we are talking Austrian schnaps, the alcohol content of which must be above 40%, so this is not the sweet, sticky butterscotch variety you might know of (they call that liqueur).
Austrians have many different flavours of schnaps, mostly fruit or berry based, but of course schnaps can be produced out of anything. And if you’re in my area of Austria, many of the locals will always opt for Zirbenschnaps. What is Zirbenschnaps, you ask? It’s schnaps, made out of pinecones. That’s right… pinecones. This type of schnaps is often found in alpine countries, especially Austria, because that’s where the Swiss stone pines grow above an altitude of around 1500m.
Now, weird as it may be, I’m not saying it’s bad. I have tasted Zirbenschnaps that is of lesser quality, and it makes me gag… at its worse it really does taste like licking a bitter pinecone. But when it’s good, it boasts a tangy, woody, almost herby flavour. Though it does seem to be an acquired taste. When my brother visited a few years ago he was offered Zirbenschnaps at the mountain hut he was staying at. His response was akin to watching a foreigner taste Vegemite for the first time.
My choice of schnaps tends more on the fruity side, because Zirben is not my favourite. But I give it a go if I know it’s going to be a good one – because then it’s smooth, delicious and kills whatever bugs might be lurking in your stomach!
So if it sounds like your cup of tea, or cup of schnaps, definitely give it a go when you’re in Austria.