My head tells me that gin is the hip tipple of the moment, but my heart belongs to fruit spirits. These traditional, handcrafted schnapps and eaux de vie, typical of the triangle formed by Switzerland, Alsace and Germany’s Black Forest, are famous for their true fruit flavours and powerful punch. All three countries enjoy a solid reputation for distilling pretty much anything they can lay hands on, from cherries to holly berries. I’ve remained faithful to kirsch – I love its fugitive cherry aromas and touch of bitter almond from the stones – and I’m exceedingly partial to a drop of Williams, with its message of pure pear in a bottle. Best of all is Himbeergeist, distilled from wild raspberries, which promises pure crushed red fruit on the nose and palate. All are crystal clear and bone dry. (Kirsch should not, of course, be confused with the lurid pink, deadly sweet cherry brandy.)
Some of the finest fruit spirits in my corner of the Black Forest come from Schladerer, family distillers since 1844 in the picture-postcard town of Staufen. For its kirsch (£26.95), explains sixth-generation managing director Philipp Schladerer, cherries are sourced from myriad local farmers and transported carefully to the distillery by a procession of tractors and trailers in late June and early July. The aromatic, red-streaked Williams pears destined for Schladerer Williams-Birne (£26.95), meanwhile, come from the Rhône Valley, while raspberries for the house Himbeergeist (£26.95) are sourced from Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, picked at night in high summer for maximum freshness and raced across central Europe to the Black Forest in refrigerated trucks. The fruit is duly fermented (cherries, pears) or macerated (raspberries), before being distilled and the spirits aged for at least two years.
The tradition of a shot of schnapps to round off a good dinner endures, but drinking habits are changing. In response, Schladerer has combined forces with mixologists and come up with suggestions for cocktails, published in a chic little tome with recipes such as raspberry mojito (bruised mint leaves, three tablespoons of Himbeergeist, the juice of half a lime, a handful of fresh raspberries, a teaspoon or two of sugar and some ice cubes, mixed well and topped up with lemonade). It has also introduced a line of premium liqueurs (£19.70) made from pure fruit juice and Schladerer fruit brandy that are lower in alcohol content – perfect for long drinks with tonic water or sekt (sparkling wine), suggests marketing director Daniel Feld.