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What's the traditional way to drink schnapps
A. The word comes from the Old Norse snappen, meaning to snatch or gulp. That indicates how the drink should be taken: ice-cold in small shots as part of a meal. In Denmark it's traditional for each person on the table to stand up in turn and shout a toast (skal) after which everyone drinks the schnapps down in one. Across Germany and Scandinavia, it's drunk neat, quickly and generally with a salute.
Q. What is schnapps
A. Schnapps is one of the great white spirits that are pure and delicate in aroma but pack a decided punch. Its home is Denmark, Norway and Germany. German distillers, however, dislike the term, feeling it signifies a cheap, rough spirit. They prefer to use the term Korn: the spirit is predominantly made from grain, although potatoes are used.
In Germany, there are two designations: the lower-strength Korn, usually used as a base for mixed drinks,: and the stronger Doppelkorn, a double distillation of corn/grain, that is an easy-drinking spirit akin to a light malty vodka.
The market has recently been given a boost by the arrival of flavoured Korn. They are a blend of fresh fruit and reduced-strength Korn. The selection includes Saurer Apfel and peach. The British brand Archer's use peach to make their own mild, dry spirit, frequently used as a base in cocktails.
In Austria, schnapps is a generic term for spirits sipped neat in small glasses as a digestif.
Meanwhile, a Dutch malted white spirit, Henkes Aromatic Schnapps, has spread to West Africa. There it ihas acquired ritual significance - in Ghana and Nigeria it is sprinkled on the ground in ceremonies associated with birth, marriage and death.
Q. How is it produced in Scandinavia
A. Akvavit is a Scandinavian variant of flavoured vodka, very much like schnapps. It began in Denmark in the 15th century, but Norway is the principal distiller today. Like vodka, it's a rectified spirit - most commonly made from potatoes. The difference between akvavit and flavoured vodka is that while flavoured vodkas have their flavouring agents steeped or infused in them, in akvavit they are added and the mixture is redistilled like gin.
The main flavouring is caraway seeds, but brands also use fenel, dill, cumin and bitter orange peel. They are either macerated in alcohol and redistilled, or distilled to obtain essential oils before being blended together, diluted and allowed to marry.
The most widely seen brand is Aalborg Akvavit, a style invented by Isidore Heinus. Its main flavour is caraway.
Norway's top aquavits are Lysholm Linie and Loiten Export. Both are potato-based spirits with caraway and other flavourings. What makes them stand apart is their strange ageing process. Both brands must have been aged in casks that have travelled around the world in the cargo-hold of a ship.
In Scandinavia, akvavit is drunk neat, with food - it's particularly good with seafood and dill-flavoured sauces, or as a base for cocktails that call for vodka.
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By Katharine MacColl