German brewers get all the glory. For centuries, the purity law-adhering lager lovers have brewed their helles and hefeweizens to keep up with pretzel production and make hammerschlagen seem fun. Every August, or even late July, Oktoberfest beers strut down the runway like Heidi Klum, and a month or two later people actually want to drink them.
But surely at some point in the proud country's history, the average German was smuggling flasks of his native hooch into soccer games and Beethoven concerts.
So as marzen mania formally kicks off Saturday, the first day of Oktoberfest, we acknowledge the hard stuff hailing from Spätzle Nation. Some of it's good. Some of it isn't. But it's kept people thinking lederhosen look good for centuries. Knock back these when you're bored with Oktoberfest brews.
It's produced at distilleries from Portland to Switzerland, but this dry cherry brandy supposedly originated around the Black Forest area in southwest Germany where morello cherries grow. The colorless spirit distilled from fermented cherries is typically served neat; while it ain't sweet, it is often used in desserts. Oregon eau de vie slingers Clear Creek Distillery make a kirsch commonly available in the Twin Cities, but for something straight from Deutschland try the roughly century-old Kammer-Kirsch.
Jägermeister — the preferred shot of B.F. (before Fireball) frat boys — is hands down Germany's most infamous distilled drink. But there's a tastier member in Germany's kräuterlikör (herbal liqueur) family. Made with 90-plus herbs, berries and fruits, Killepitsch splits the difference between the popular coed crunk juice and an Italian amaro. Like Jäg, the syrupy liqueur is intended to be served chilled and has gentler hints of anise and licorice. But a dark fruit backdrop makes for a less offensive package.
Somebody tell the bro pounding Goldschlager in honor of Oktoberfest that the stuff's made in Switzerland. Instead of the sickly cinnamon schnapps, try Der Lachs distillery's Berlin-made herbal liqueur (never mind that it was invented in 1598 by a Dutchman in a city that's now part of Poland). Like the 'schlager, there are gold flakes suspended in the bottle — supposedly Peter and Catherine the Great favored its old-world bling. But the similarities between the cloying gut-wrencher and the bittersweet, graciously spicy Goldwasser end there.
For all the beer and bratwursts, Germany is schnapps country, too. This apple schnapps developed in the 1970s doesn't have the history of others on this list. But apfelkorn has become popular. The ultra-sweet Berentzen blends a wheat spirit with apple juice and tastes like a liquefied apple sucker. If that sounds appealing, the liqueur makes a tame flask filler at a mild 40 proof.
Anyone claiming to enjoy the taste of this acridly herbaceous bitter that makes malort look rational is either lying or depraved. The label readily admits it's no beverage, rather a rancid (our words) digestif intended to make one "feel bright and alert" after a meal. The single-serving, down-in-one 20 mL bottles recently hit the Twin Cities market, but the potent swill dates back to 1846. The polar bear plunge of novelty shots, the gentian and faintly licorice-y Underberg is an herbal shock to the system.
For a beverage whose name means "bear hunter," this honey liqueur is remarkably unmenacing. This sweet treat is based on a medieval beverage often compared to mead called meschkinnes, which the hunters used to lure the bears (or so the story goes). Don't try that at home. But go ahead and spike while sweetening a hot toddy or Bee's Knees with it.
Michael Rietmulder writes about beer, cocktails and nightlife.