Germany has a venerable tradition of making Obstbrand, or fruit brandy, not to be confused with syrupy-sweet schnapps, which often is a fruit-flavored grain spirit. Obstbrand, also known as Fruchtbrand, is a brandy distilled from fruit, not grain, and it should have no added sugar or color. Upscale German bars often have a wide selection, and one of the best we encountered was at the Schlosshotel Burg Schlitz. There, the sommelier pointed us toward the list of brandies crafted by the Swiss Etter family, now in its fourth generation of distillers. We tried the rare 2001 Etter Wild-Kirsch (wild cherry) brandy, made from foraged wild cherries. It had a heady aroma of Marasca cherries and almonds, and a pronounced cherry flavor balanced by a spicy finish. A delight.
The next evening, the sommelier was off, but he left his colleague with instructions to recommend that we try the spirits of a local artisanal distiller, the Stählemühle Obstbrennerei. Stählemühle dedicates itself to uncompromising quality, the sommelier explained, and it shows. Amazingly, the brandies smelled of pure, ripe fruit, with almost no alcoholic bite in the nostrils. We tried a powerful and focused Constantinople apple brandy, redolent of apples, wood and a little cardamom, and a gorgeous Sicilian blood-orange brandy, which had a fresh and deep orange flavor and a seemingly endless finish. These brandies were truly special, with quality well beyond their relatively modest price tags.
Distilled near Lake Constance, Stählemühle brandies might be difficult to find, but anywhere in Germany it’s worth asking the sommelier or bartender if there are any notable fruit brandies on hand. They make for wonderful digestifs.