We arrive at the entrance hall with shelves crammed with bottles of fruit schnapps. Despite the word “kirsch” on the roof, today the production does not only specialize in cherry spirits, as it did in the past; the palette is much more varied. You can taste, for example, pear, apricot or raspberry, including their aged versions, which mature in barrels for many months. In addition, they have a slightly different production process than classic distillates, and this should be reflected in their more complex taste.
The entrance hall is also decorated with a number of gold plaques with current awards, in the past to the founder Gottfried Fassbind II. the French emperor Napoleon III also awarded a gold medal for the cherry tree. “My God, this is wonderful,” the monarch was supposed to have exclaimed at the agricultural exhibition in Paris.
Apart from that, Italian King Victor Emanuel II, the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor Francis Joseph I or Queen Victoria, who allegedly said in a typically British dry manner: “This brandy is very fruity, isn’t it?”
The Queen of the Mountains is proud of the oldest European cogwheel
An important person of the region
“To Gottfried Fassbind II. was only 17 years old when the distillery was founded. He came from Holland, in Switzerland his family made a living by farming or fruit growing. However, the traditional profession for her was the production of barrels,” explains Stephan Kopp, who is the export manager at the distillery, about the complicated history. “At that time, the young Fassbind mainly produced wine and beer barrels for local monks, who later initiated him into the entire firing process,” adds Kopp.
According to him, the interesting thing is that the distillery itself was founded two years before the modern Swiss federation was established.
Gottfried Fassbind II. he had big ambitions for the company from the beginning, which crossed the borders of the country. Although he also garnered recognition at home, it was the agricultural exhibition in Paris in 1856 that brought international fame to the young cherry producer. Brandy began to be exported in large quantities; Today, Germany is the biggest export market, but as Kopp notes with a wink, by far the most beverages are consumed per capita in the Czech Republic.
Fassbind was not only the owner of a famous distillery, he also advocated for the further development of the region. He is the co-founder of the narrow-gauge railway on Mount Rigi, the oldest cog railway in Europe. Tourists could ride it for the first time in 1871 and it is still used today; the peak is also a popular excursion destination for many residents of nearby municipalities and cities, including Lucerne.
Fassbind died relatively young of a heart attack, and it should be noted that he died while smoking a drink, that is, while doing what he loved. His 24-year-old son Gottfried Fassbind III took over the business after him. and led it for almost 50 years. He expanded and modernized the distillery.
However, let’s skip to the 90s of the last century, when the family was forced to sell the business due to the bad economic situation. It returned to Swiss hands 20 long years later, i.e. in 2014, which was a major milestone for the oldest distillery in the country.
After ordering, interested parties can visit the distillery, where less than twenty people work today, and get an insight into the production process of the popular Swiss drink. Groups of up to ten people pay a collective fee of 230 francs (5880 crowns), over eleven people the price is set at 23 francs (580 crowns) per excursion participant.
Kopp first takes us into the room where the fruit is fermented; as already mentioned, today it is not only cherries, but also apricots, pears and raspberries. “Fermentation takes place on a natural basis, only baker’s yeast and citric acid are added inside. Fermentation takes six to ten weeks and you need really ripe fruit for it, because all the sugar in it is converted to alcohol,” explains Kopp.
This is followed by distillation, where the liquid is heated with steam so that all the aroma remains inside. Unlike water, the boiling point of alcohol is around 78 degrees Celsius, at this stage the dangerous methanol is separated. Sometimes the liquid is distilled more than once, but after each such process, less of the final product remains. “For 100 kilograms of pears, there are five to 5.5 liters of pure alcohol, which corresponds to about seventeen bottles. After the next distillation, there will be schnapps left for about twelve bottles,” explains Kopp.
After distillation, it is necessary to cool and ventilate the liquid and then let it lie in barrels for a long time. Aged schnapps rest in tanks for two years to fully develop the aroma and at the same time soften the alcohol component. “Our uniqueness lies in the fact that we also add infused liquor, which is used, for example, in the production of champagne. Thanks to it, the fruit flavor is accentuated in the aged brandy and the drink is softer,” adds Kopp.
However, as we learn during the final tasting, the oldest Swiss schnapps are nevertheless quite strong. The classic ones also have 54 percent alcohol, while the aged ones have 40 percent. Therefore, some of us, despite the interesting historical excursion, prefer to stay with the chocolate.
Snack at three in the morning? You don’t have to worry about hunger in the easternmost tip of Switzerland