The heritage of fruit distilling

The first known book in history about the art of distilling is by Hieronymus Brunschwig, a German surgeon and botanist that lived in Strasbourg (1450-1513). His ‘great distillery book’ from 1512 describes the secrets of the traditional distilling art on more than 600 pages and opened up distilling knowledge to a broad audience for the first time in history. Hieronymus included in this book recipes for the extraction of plant extracts and pictures of distillation apparatus that were designed and developed for more than 500 years by alchemists and clergyman who preserved and copied their knowledge for the church. The main idea behind the first distilling attempts was to find healing tinctures, and so it does not surprise that Hieronymus was a physician who wrote the first book about distilling.

The “Red Book Of Ossory” is a church manuscript written in 1317 that contains a number of texts in Latin and in Anglo-Norman including an early recipe for distilling alcohol from wine. It is often referenced as proof for the first whiskey recipe in Ireland despite being a recipe making alcohol from grape wine. In 1411 the French distilled commercially ‘burning water’ from wine: and still today Armagnac is a popular drink in France. About 100 years later, Calvados was distilled from fermented apple juice in northern France, and later in the beginning of the 16th century, Cognac brandy was distilled in the French city of Cognac.

The Alemannic Heritage of Fruit Schnapps (Obstler and Eau-de-Vie)

The origin of the distilling of fruit is deeply rooted in Alemannic traditions in central Europe, where plums, cherries and stone fruits such as apricots have always been harvested in large numbers. From the Rhine Valley to the foothills of the Black Forest, and to the valleys of the Alsace, farmers perfected the ​​processing of fruits to spirits over centuries. It is not surprising that Hieronymus of Brunswig published the first book about distilling in the city of Strasbourg, which is located in Alsace, and belonging to the Alemannic area of central Europe.

Over the centuries, up to the present very modern and engineered processes succeeded in optimizing an increasingly precise separation of different substances to create fine fruit spirits. Similar to the Alemannic tradition, the United States defines “fruit brandy” to be distilled “solely from the fermented juice or mash of whole, sound, ripe fruit, or from standard grape, citrus, or other fruit wine, with or without the addition of not more than 20 percent by weight of the pomace of such juice or wine, or 30 percent by volume of the lees of such wine, or both.”

The fruit is what really matters, not how gnarly or beautiful the apple tree is.

Aiden Wilson Tozer