Today’s spirits lead us to Baden-Württemberg, to the idyllic Badische Achertal on the edge of the Schwarzwald, where the peaceful village of Kappelrodeck is located. Throughout the whole region various fruit varieties grow in orchards for a long time due to the larger amount sunlight (at least compared with the conditions in other parts of Germany). It is therefore no wonder that the craft of distilling has a long tradition which is in particularly specialized on fruit brandies. In today’s article I would therefore like to introduce a series of fruit brandies from the region which I will also critically review here. (provided testing products)
The brandies I am speaking about are selected fruit brandies from the series “Feiner Kappler” (engl.: “fine Kappler”), which are made in Kappelrodeck (where they also have their name from – inhabitants call their village “Kappel”) by Axel Baßler (or Axel Bassler, “ß” is a specific German letter camporable to “ss”). Axel runs a fourth generation fruit and wine farm and has learned to work on a small farm since he was a little boy. Nonetheless, the craft of distilling was not carried on by the family from the very beginning, but arose in the post-war years. As in many parts of the Germany, the barter trade, which was born from poverty and hunger, also flourished in the Achertal and it naturally was of a true advantage to be able to trade alcohol for other goods. Axel Baßler also tells the additional anecdote that his father had excavated an old copper-distilling machine in the ground of the former chicken farm where he was up to build his of the estate. Of course that was interpreted as a sign and so the family finally entered the distilling business.
So far so good. What is important to me and of particular interest is the absence of any additions of flavors to the fruit brandies and liqueurs from the Feiner Kappler series. German law does not forbid the addition of sugar to the final distillates, so you have to look carefully. Axel Baßler clearly disagrees with this legal framework and guarantees the unadulterated character of his brandies on his website. At least in name only that’s a clear plus!
At this point, it may once again be useful to consider what actually a fruit brandy or Eau de Vie is. For the production of fruit brandies, certain fruit varieties (depending on the desired distillate) are mashed and combined with certain yeasts in order to induce alcoholic fermentation. In particular, the sugar content of the fruit plays an important role since it is decisive for the alcohol content of the process. This is particularly true for those fruits which do not bring enough sugar to become a fermenting mash with the help of yeasts. This also marks the difference between fruit brandies (German: “Obstbrände”) and fruit spirits (German: “Obstgeiste”) which is often a question people ask. In the case of fruit spirits (Obstgeiste), the fruits (for example raspberries) are mixed with alreay distilled alcohol and are allowed to macerate in that alcohol since they do not have enough sugar on their own to be transformed into a fermenting mash. Among the bottles of the Feiner Kappler series, however, there are no fruit spirits (Obstgeiste) and we are exclusively dealing with fruit brandies. I will write some separate words on the Grüne Nuss liqueur (green nut), which I will also present in this article, below. The brandies and liqueurs all together come in elegant, filigree bottles which are typical for Eau de Vies (although I found the protection foil around the screw-cap a little bit annoying since it was quite recalcitrant). Although a lot of people think of fruit brandies as a little bit outdated, I have to admit that I have always been a fan of those bottle designs and I also like the Feiner Kappler bottles. Ultimately, I am quite sure that fruit brandies and spirits are going to boost forward in the next few years especially in the context of the bar and cocktail scene. I will also introduce various ideas of using them in cocktails in future articles.
So much for the history and background, now it’s time to have a closer look on the individual Eau de Vies in order to answer the critical question how they will finally perform in a tasting.
Feiner Kappler Zwetschge Edelbrand
This prune brandy comes with a gold medal on the label, which it has won at the Baden Best Spirits Awards in 2014 (and also a silver medal in 2016 and a bronze medal in 2012). The label also informs us that we are dealing with a product distilled twice on copper stills. Of course the double distillation promises a certain gentleness. Axel Baßler uses the Bühler Frühzwetschge, an old prune variety, which was first cultured in the year of 1840 for this brandy. The prune brandy is bottled at 42% vol.
Aroma: Beautiful and deep prune tones rise to the nose, associations of curd or milk desserts with filigree vanilla also come to my mind. There is almond and cinnamon as described by the manufacturer. After some time, nuances of a little aquatic mint come through, sweet cherries and strawberries (very subtle, of course, no comparison to the plum), very fine citrus notes and some fruit compote in the end.
Taste: As expected, the prunes dominate the taste alongside some fresh citrus and spices. The alcohol remains relatively subtle for 42% and nicely carries the aromas of that brandy. I like it very much. Here, too, a little almond and subtle cherry appears.
Finish: fruity, becoming drier, long lasting
Feiner Kappler Mirabelle Edelbrand
Here, too, we are dealing with a twice distilled fruit brandy, which contains 42% ABV. The basis here is the so-called Nancy Mirabelle, which for the first time was brought to Europe and / or to Germany from Asia during the 18th century. The Nancy Mirabelle can be recognized by the red cheeks on the fruits. Mirabelle is related to the plum. The Mirabelle brandy has also won two gold medals in the years of 2012 and 2014 and a silver medal at the Baden Best Spirits Awards in 2016.
Aroma: After the tasting of the prune brandy, the typical characteristics of the Kappler brandies gradually becoming guessable. Once again I can find hints of the milk and curd desserts on the nose, which, however, stand back behind a beautiful, fresh and fruity Mirabelle. The almond that is quite typical for the distillation of stone fruits is also there. In the end, the Mirabelle Edelbrand is distinctively lighter and more floral.
Taste: Sweet and fruity, the Mirabelle is accompanied by almond tones and a little spice (cinnamon, nutmeg). Here, too, a slight hint of citrus aromas shine through after some time but is finally absorbed by a richer, tart note.
Finish: light, floral, fruity
Feiner Kappler Kirsch Edelbrand
This Kirschwasser, like the other two brandies, was distilled twice and it is made from two different cherry varieties. They listen to the names of Dollenseppler and Bejaminler. The final distillate is again bottled at 42% ABV. I personally did not know these cherry varieties, but if I will have the opportunity to take part in a cherry tasting at any time in the future, I will definitely go for them. At the Baden Best Spirits Awards the Kirsch achieved a gold medal in 2014 and a silver medal in 2016.
Aroma: I have to admit, on the nose the Kirsch Edelbrand first somewhat disappointed me. I simply would have hoped for a clearer cherry note. It is there but it takes a while before it breaks through. During my time taking these tasting notes, my wife accidentally came by and asked me what I have in my glass. I told her “It’s a fruit brandy,” and when she smelled at the glass she did not succeed in finding out which kind of fruit it is. She is certainly less practiced in the tasting of spirits and is not really concerned with taking tasting notes but nevertheless this incident somewhat describes the problem that I also had. What is immediately there, however, is what I assume as being the distillation character I have already described above. There is a clear almond and actually some chocolate. I like the Kirsch Edelbrand but in a blind tasting I would have expected a fruit brandy made from mixed fruits.
Taste: The cherry is clearly more prominent on the palate but also quickly blends with the pronounced almond aroma. It tends towards an Amarena cherry which I do like. Also there are volatile chocolate tones present and a certain citrus fruit.
Finish: aromatic, long, very pleasant
Feiner Kappler Trester Edelbrand
We are dealing with a slightly different spirit here: Trester is the German word for pomace and the most famous pomace spirit certainly is the the Italian grappa. Pomace is basically a by-product in the wine making prcoess, namely it’s the remains of the pressed grapes which are already fermented and contain alcohol. For the Feiner Kappler Tresterbrand, the pomace of red pinot noir grapes from the local wine cellar “Hex vom Dasenstein” was used. The use of a pinot noir is definitely rare when it comes to Tresterbrand / pomace spirit. After a time in the glass balloon, the pomace brandy was finally allowed to mature for four weeks in a brand new limousine oak barrel which is the reason for its beautiful color. The Trester Edelbrand is bottled at 41.5% ABV. It was also awarded a silver medal in 2014.
Aroma: You will immediately notice: It’s something else in the glass. It shows tart tones of grapes, especially of grape seeds and skin. Associations of quinces, spicy citron, a touch of cloves and some cinnamon show up after some time. The affiliation to Grappa is unmistakable but the Feiner Kappler Tresterbrand appears very mild and well balanced on the nose, there’s practically no alcohol.
Taste: In terms of flavor the Tresterbrand is surprisingly fresh in the beginning, but then there is spicy oak and other tart tones. The citron is also once again there. Grape seeds with herbaceous nuances. Always mild and pleasant. I like it very much!
Finish: dry, tart and fresh with persistent oak
Feiner Kappler Grüne Nuss Likör
Let’s talk about the last bottle of today’s more comprehensive article, the Feiner Kappler Grüne Nuss Likör (engl: Green Nut Liqueur). Basis for this liqueur is – little surprising, but very interesting, as I find – twice distilled fruit brandy. Contrary to the brandies above this liqueur is, of course, sweetened afterwards but most important green walnut fruits are allowed to macerate in the fruit brandy. Vanilla and other spices are also added. The manufacturer states that this liqueur goes back to a family tradition of the Baßlers. The green nut is filled with a rather impressive 30% vol.
Aroma: The green nut liqueur is initially less nutty than one might expect of a nut liqueur. But we’re dealing with a green nut, so it fits into the overall concept. Tart and bitter herbal tones show up and remind me of an Italian Amaro. The walnut acquires more and more space over time. It remains tart, yet “green” (a quite appropriate name).
Taste: A fine and spicy sweetness spreads on the palate, with notes of cloves, subtle juniper and unripe walnut. The sweetness reminds a little of molasses, it is quite vigorous. However without being too sugary. It is less bitter than I would have expected after the nosing. Definitely a different nut liqueur, very nice!
Finish: not too sweet, becoming drier with spices.
Drawing a conclusion is not really difficult here because I actually liked all of the presented fruit brandies (with a little demerit during the tasting of the Kirsch Edelbrand) and also the green nut liqueur was very appealing. My personal favorite actually is the Zwetschgendbrand / prune brandy and the Tresterbrand / pomace brandy, but also the other varieties have convinced me and are solid representatives of their genus. When it comes to cocktails I can especially imagine to use them in Sours due to their specific flavor profiles. But also other varieties are possible. In the next days and weeks I will experiment a little bit and introduce the results here.
Buying sources: At specialized retailers or online (or of course in Kappelrodeck)