Snaps (also spelled schnapps) seems like an antiquated drink to a lot of people, but to those of Scandinavian descent, it’s an essential part of dinners and celebrations. Andreas Viestad, in his indispensable book Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad, points out that “Today snaps is one of the most important aspects of the Swedish gastronomic tradition”. Norwegians and Danes have been throwing back snaps with equal ardor for centuries as well.
Making your own is so easy, you’ll kick yourself for not making your own before now – or worse, buying pre-bottled stuff at the store. You’ll want to start with a decent quality bottle of grain vodka. A lot of people go with bottom shelf vodka for making drinks like this, but I recommend going a couple shelves up – not necessarily top shelf ($50-75 is way too much money to spend here) but get something good with a clean, neutral flavor. I actually discovered a Norwegian-produced vodka called Christiana and I just couldn’t pass it up, and it was only about $25.00. Other favorites include North Shore Distillery vodka (very nice as it’s a local product, produced just up the lake from us in Lake Bluff, IL – and they also make a good aquavit) at about $25.00, Tito’s Handmade Vodka out of Texas for about $15.00 and a semi-local vodka at about $25.00 from Traverse City, Michigan called Grand Traverse.
The basic premise to making snaps is to infuse vodka with flavor and/or color. To do this, you steep it for at least two weeks. You should gently shake the vodka daily, in order to distribute the color and flavor evenly. Taste a small sip every few days to gauge how well it’s coming along. When the snaps has the depth and flavor you desire, strain it through cheesecloth and rebottle. If you’re giving the snaps as a gift, add some of the fresh ingredients back to the bottle for a decorative element (a nice touch, since certain ingredients like lemon peel or dill will look pretty ratty after a long infusion).
An easy starter snaps is the one I’m making on my first try – cinnamon and cardamom. All you need are two sticks of good cinnamon and a couple cardamom pods. Lightly crush the cardamom with your palm and toss them with the cinnamon into your vodka. Mine has been steeping for about a week now, and it already has a lovely brown-cinnamon color and a spicy, smoky aroma and taste. It will be a great after-dinner drink for Thanksgiving. This one likely also won’t need straining or fresh ingredients for looks since cinnamon and cardamom are pretty hardy and won’t dissolve in the vodka.
A couple of other good infusions that Viestad recommends in his book (where I also got the cinnamon cardamom idea) are a dill snaps using fresh dill (I’d think you could also used dill seeds as well), ginger snaps using a 1 ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, and snaps with lemongrass and star anise, which calls for 2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, 2 star anise pods, and 4 black peppercorns.
Oh, and while I’m at it, get Kitchen of Light for more than just the snaps recipes – it’s a well-loved cookbook in our house (not that we’re partial as Norwegian-Americans) with tasty recipes for every day and special occasions.