Schnapps: It's Not Just for Puking Anymore

When I spoke to Tina Wasserman last week about the best foods to eat after a 25-hour fast, she sensibly recommended bagels and cream cheese. She didn't mention hard liquor.

But there's a tradition of ending the annual Yom Kippur fast with a "bissel schnapps," or a little bit of alcohol. As I learned when I first observed the holiday at a Chabad House in the company of members of the Hasidic movement -- they're the black-hatted, Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jews whose routines provide a pretty good guide to 19th-century shtetl life -- Central and Eastern Europeans have long considered liquor a good way to reinvigorate dormant digestive juices.

Since I had an invitation to a Break the Fast party this year, I figured it would be good form to show up with a bottle of schnapps. But I didn't have much luck finding the right kind of drink.

"Are you sure that's what you want?," I was asked by a liquor store sales clerk, who was no doubt entertaining visions of a roomful of hungry people sprawled out after doing Jaeger shots.

What I wanted was not American schnapps, the flavored grain alcohol concoctions sold in cheap-looking bottles: I can't quite imagine shifting from serious atonement to a glass of Pucker Sour Apple. I was instead seeking German-style schnapps, the distilled, fermented fruit beverage that the French call "eau de vie."

True schnapps -- sold in the United States under the French name to avoid confusion -- is produced domestically only by small, artisan distillers.

"When we started making it 26 years ago, Americans didn't know what it was," says Rachel Inman of Oregon's Clear Creek Distillery. "They were expecting something sweet and sugary."

Drinkers are gradually becoming familiar with the digestif, but national sales manager Jeanine Racht told me it's still hard to find eaux de vie in Dallas. Although Clear Creek is available at Siegel's, Centennial and Pogo's, popularity's proved elusive.

"Dallas seems to be a lot of corporate restaurants where there isn't one person making the decision," Racht says. "Considering that, we're doing all right. But, compared to other markets, we're not doing so well."

Racht theorizes drinkers don't want to mess with strong spirits in hot weather. Or, perhaps it's another example of the city's culinary conservatism.

"There's a huge potential, I think," Racht says.

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