The Black Forest is for schnapps what the Highlands is for whisky. You will never experience a schnapps as great and formidable as you will when wandering between the many Brennereis the area has on offer. And there are a great many here to be found.
Wanderparkplatz Brennersteig –
Starting on the edge of Oberkirch, the Brennersteig is an incredible trail that takes you through rich orchards and vineyards, past farms and woodlands and through the heartland of the world’s best schnapps.
Well documented and made famous by a particular feature in The Washington Post, the Brennersteig has to be one my all time favourite Hiking and Drinking experiences.
The 14km round trip tasks you past at least six different Brennereis, giving you the option to drink and sample as much schnapps as you desire.
You can find a link to the route here.
I used to think that schnapps was nothing more than the inexpensive digestiv you had after a fancy meal. Cheap, sharp and tangy. How wrong I was.
These fruit brandies —Obstbrand —are made from the abundance of fruit you find in the Black Forest. Pears, plums and more, all you can pick for yourself along the way. The schnapss tradition developed from when area began to grow in dominance thanks to its fruit production, with the land dukes giving permission to the farmers to distill their excess fruit.
Here in the Black Forest there are 14,000 schnapps distillers, called Brennereis. Almost every farm will have their own copper distillery machine somewhere, burning away the mushed fruit essences to distill the sweet, strong liquor.
So how do you go about sampling such an abundance of liquors?
Well, the farmers just leave them out for you to drink them on your own, leaving just a tin for donations next to the bottles. In some brenneries, the schnapps bottles are left out in ‘fountains’ – pools of freshly flowing water, which keep the liquors cool. At others, the schnapps are left out in ‘birdhouses’, little cabins you can open up, pour yourself a drink and sit down at.
The Oberkircher Brennersteig
The sunny little town of Oberkirch is the schnapps capital of Germany. From the central train station head south, and follow the Rench eastwards until you reach a bridge. Cross the over the bridge, pass the cemetery and over the main road until you reach Hesselbach. This is where you join the well-signposted Brennersteig. It’s recommended you head clockwise, but the direction you take is really of no importance.
As soon as you head off the road and into the woodlands you are immediately assaulted with the abundance of fruit the area has. The first orchard is rife with golden, and delightfully sweet mirabelle plums. The row of trees leads up to the first, and most important Brennerei, owned by the Familie Halter. The award winning distillers use multiple methods to create their spirits, including the use of oak barrels. There are options to tour the Brenneri and cellar-shop, as well as having prime tasting sessions in the farm’s prestigious garden.
There are many great schnapps here for you to sample. The is of course a brilliant Williams Christbirnenbrand (made from pear), and the Mirabellenbrand (from the mirabelle plums you see on the way there). There are liquors also on offer, which is when the manufacturer adds additional sugars to the spirt to make it fuller and well, sweeter. There are also more unconventional brandies here as well, including the wooden-cask distilled variety, in addition to the Fruchtauszug variety, which is when the fruit extract is added to the final product, making in more, yes… fruity.
Grüner Baum Müller’s Spezialitäten Brennerei
Leaving the Familie Halter Brennerei behind, the hike takes you through the myriad of vineyards and orchards, round the farms and forests to your next Brennerei, Waldhotel Grüner Baum. In somewhat unconventional circumstances, the Brennersteig weaves through a back woodland and around a pond, which you need to deviate from, climb a small hill to arrive through the back of Grüner Baum’s garden!!!
Here there is a little shed outside with the a full store and display range of Grüner Baum’s particular range of liquor. When I arrived though I was too late, but luckily for me there was a medicine cabinet outside, with a wide range of their brandies and flavoured liquors for me to sample.
The fruit schnapps are incredible, but here the flavoured liquors are world-shattering, in particular the current-butter scotch liquor, and my personal favourite, the elderberry-chocolate chilli liquor.
Huber and Buseck and Fießhof
Further on into the woods and there are even more orchards, glistening with pears, plums and apples. You’ll first cross Huber, the next brennerei, which keeps its brandies and liquors outside in a little Schnapshisli.
You would be mad to pass up not trying the Huber’s kirschwasser, distilled from their locally farmed cherries.
At Buseck, a farm located just a few kilometres further, there are hammocks laid out for you to lie in while you work your way through the schnapps bar laid out for you on the farm’s terrace.
Finally there is Köbelesberghof which greets you before the final stop at Fießhof, where the schnapps bar is situation in a large, overturned wooden barrel, hidden beneath some over-grown vineyard. Situated on the edge of the Fießhof farm, here you can help yourself to the Brennerei’s selection of crytstal clear fruit brandies, of which there are many, and all of which are excellent.
It’s a fine way to end the journey, having wandered through the backfills of the schnapps-paradise. From here, it’s just a 10-minute walk back into Oberkirch.
Photos – Dan Cole