Keen to explore the world of schnaps? We chat with Hirakawa Katsuhisa, group beverage manager of Epicurean Group, about its latest venture, Schnitzel & Schnaps.
Most of us have knocked down a sweet shot of schnaps, or schnapps, on a big night out, but there’s more to this grain spirit than the sweet, sticky varieties we’re likely to have sampled, as new restaurant, Schnitzel & Schnaps neatly demonstrates.
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The extensive schnaps menu and schnaps-based cocktails incorporate Sichuan pepper and grapefruit varieties of this Central European firewater, and these creative mixes are paired with classic regional cuisine like schnitzels, currywurst and, for dessert, Kaiserschmarrn, a lightly caramelized pancake topped with whipped mascarpone cream.
Like tequila, schnaps is best sipped rather than downed, says schnaps aficionado Hirakawa Katsuhisa – and if you’re going to drink it in one, then at least make sure it’s ice cold, he advises.
The cocktail menu at Schnitzel & Schnaps incorporates Asian influences, and the Silk Road and S&S Bloody Mary both feature Sichuan pepper schnaps. What prompted that decision?
Using Asian ingredients in the cocktails felt like the right choice, as we’re introducing schnaps to Hong Kong drinkers and want to include ingredients that they’ll recognise. We’ll continue to feature Asian flavours and ingredients on the menu.
The kitchen is helmed by Polish restauranteur and chef Krzysztof Bandel. How do you work with him to collaborate on drinks that complement the food menu?
All our schnaps and cocktails have been sourced and created to compliment the food with our chefs and bar team. Our signature cocktails are mostly low ABV and go well with our starters, whereas the high ABV schnaps work better with our main dishes, especially our schnitzels, to cut through the richness and intense flavours. The low ABV and sweet schnaps are best paired with our desserts.
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Starters include Wódka Cured Salmon. Should such dishes be paired with vodka, or would wine work better?
Dishes such as cured salmon pair perfectly with a chilled shot of Potocki Wodka, as it’s simple and clean on the palate.
You offer wine and beers from Central Europe. Tell us about some that Asian drinkers might not be familiar with
For beers, there’s Paulaner Dunkel Dark, a beautiful German lager made with roasted malt. That gives unique flavour profiles such as light chocolate, cocoa, and tropical fruit.
For wines, there are a few classic names from the region, such as Fritz Wieninger’s Pinot Noir Select, with the bright aromas and juicy flavours you’d expect from the cool climate and limestone soils of Vienna. There are red cherries, red plums, dried flowers, and savoury herbs on the nose with ripe red fruit, smoked meat, and refined tannins on the palate.
Zweigelt is one of the most popular grapes in Austria – and one of the best, too. It was created in 1922 when researcher Frank Zweigelt crossed an Austrian grape called Blaufränkish, which gives the wine its acidity, with St. Laurent, which imparts bright cherry flavours and a smooth texture. It tastes like a spicy Beaujolais, a racy Pinot Noir or an inky California Zinfandel.
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In addition to schnitzel, what other food goes well with schnaps and why?
It all depends on the flavour of schnaps and the fruits that they are made of. For example, Fürst Bismarck Kornbrand, made with rye and wheat, pairs well with pickled herring. Then the Specht Williams Christ Birne, made with Williams pears, complements the sweetness of the beetroot salad.
Schnitzel & Schnaps offers semi-dry and sweet schnaps. What are some of your favourite schnaps and why?
It’s hard to say which one is better as each of them is uniquely different in taste and how they are made. Sweet schnaps are great as a cocktail ingredient while dry schnaps are excellent to serve straight up or as a very simple cocktail base.
Some will equate schnaps as a shot to knock back on a boozy night. Do you have any tips on how to drink it properly and get maximum enjoyment from it?
The best way to appreciate schnaps is to sip it slowly, just like you would with any good spirit. Traditionally, schnaps is a great digestif to consume after a meal. We also like to keep some of them frozen and drink them neat, ice cold.
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What would you say to someone who has reservations about schnaps – why should they try it, and what’s a good schnaps to try for someone who isn’t that familiar with it?
Schnaps uses various fruits, grains and herbs for infusion and it’s an interesting world to explore with so many different flavours available. For dry schnaps, Specht Slivovitz, made with blue plum, is a classic and a good starting point. If you’re looking for sweet schnaps, Muss Walnue is an interesting one, while Specht Apfel, an apple-flavoured schnaps, offers something more traditional. Made with rye and wheat, Fürst Bismarck Kornbrand is the original schnaps flavour, so is a good entry point into the world of schnaps.
How will the drinks menu evolve at Schnitzel & Schnaps?
We plan to import more unique schnaps from Austria. There’s one producer using pinecones, mountain hay and gentian and we can’t wait to get hold of that. Winter is a great season for schnaps, and we’ll add more winter cocktails, which will include our own take on mulled wine.
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