What is Bierschnapps?

By definition, bierschnapps, alt. bierschnaps, Bierbrand, eau-de-vie de bière, is a spirit distilled from beer. Traditionally, breweries in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and parts of France had small stills they used to distill their excess beer to avoid spoilage. In most cases, the spirit was un-aged resulting in a style of spirit not unlike a fruit brandy.  

You might be thinking: But wait! Isn’t whiskey is a spirit distilled from beer? In the most simple terms, when water is added to grain and allowed to ferment the resulting liquid is beer. When beer is distilled, the resulting liquid is (un-aged) whiskey. So, what is the difference between bierschnapps and whiskey? The distinction lies in the use of hops—the dried flowers of the hop vine used to preserve and flavor beer destined for a bottle, can or keg–and also, the distillation process.

In that we are always looking to release experimental spirits that push the boundaries of rigidly-defined categories, the first release of our Distiller’s Workshop Bierschnapps—while it doesn’t strictly adhere to the characteristics of a traditional bierschnapps—pays homage to the Western European brewers’ tradition. When Fort George Brewing reached out to us in the Summer of 2013 looking to free up some kegs of a Belgian IPA that had been aged in Wild Turkey barrels and then dry hopped–an earlier iteration of this Fall 2013 release–we knew it was destined for a bierschnapps-like spirit rather than a whiskey.

The distillation and aging process is much different from one we would use for making whiskey. We took the supremely hoppy Fort George Belgian IPA and distilled it in a style much like our New Deal Pear Brandy, resulting in a cleaner spirit without the rough edges of a whiskey meant for American-style barrel aging. We vatted it and let it sit for several years. Then we put it in second-fill rye whiskey barrels where it aged for 4.5 years.  A new American Oak char barrel would have stripped the spirit of the complex floral components from the Belgian yeast and dominant hop notes characteristic of an Imperial IPA.

While we enjoy sipping our bierschnapps neat or on a rock, it also plays well in this Grainhound cocktail, a variation on a Salty Dog that highlights the grassy hops and floral complexity of the bierschnapps.

  • 1 1/2 Distiller’s Workshop Bierschnapps
  • 3/4 oz fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup (1:1 ratio)

Salt the rim of a rocks glass and set aside.

Add ingredients to a shaker, add ice, shake well and pour into rocks glass with salted rim.



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