All across the Northern and Eastern parts of the United States people are huddled inside as temperatures drop and toes freeze. Forget furs, cashmere, even fires—the best way to beat the cold? Schnaps. Few coping mechanisms are more immediately warming than a glass of good schnaps, an excellent and underappreciated beverage for the current climate.
In Austria, schnaps is a colloquial term that historically references distilled fruit brandy. It refers to what Americans call eau-de-vie, though Austrians have been tinkering with and perfecting the drink for centuries. In America we’ve unfortunately come to associate it with the cinnamon or peppermint firewater generally palatable only to those who haven’t yet turned twenty-one. (That’s schnapps, with two “p”s by the way.)
The world can thank late Empress Maria Theresa (Marie Antoinette’s mother and the sole female ruler of the Hapsburg Empire) for legalizing this simultaneously fiery and delicate libation. During her reign in the eighteenth-century, she introduced a grant permitting any household to make up to two hundred liters of distilled spirits annually. The Empress added a special clause for land-owning farmers, who were allowed to distill up to three hundred liters. Anyone who grew his or her own fruit or collected it wild could turn it into booze. Austrians began to make alcohol out of whatever happened to be around.