When discussing schnapps, it’s important to distinguish between two different styles of liquor. Germany-style schnaps – spelled with one “p” – is made by fermenting fruit juices along with the base spirit. Examples of the original style of schnaps are fruit brandies or eau-de-vie. Like most of the historical uses for spirits, schnaps was originally intended for medicinal purposes.
North American schnapps is a kind of sweetened liqueur flavored by adding elements to a base distillate. Flavors can range wildly in flavor from apple, peach and watermelon to butterscotch and root beer.
“I would say (Mountain Mint) walks the line (between those styles),” said Brant Giovannetti, sales manager at Spotted Bear Spirits in Whitefish. “It’s really not quite as sweet as some North American schnapps, but it’s definitely a sweetened liqueur and not an eau-de-viv German style.”
If there’s one thing that is undeniable about Mountain Mint, it’s that it is the perfect winter spirit. Combining it with coffee and chocolate flavors evokes a visceral and warming emotional upwelling – holiday memories of candy canes, hot chocolate, silence in the snow and cold nights around warm fires après-ski. At 100 proof, it’ll surely warm you up.
“Traditionally you would sip it chilled out of a small glass, but it goes great with hot cocoa and obviously any coffee or chocolate flavors,” Giovannetti said. “I think the classic riffs on old-school white Russians and espresso martinis work best.”
When asked where in the bar lineup a schnapps fits among the whiskey, gin and vodka heavyweights, Giovannetti said “We’re in a ski town. So a winter warmer style schnapps kind of made sense for us.” Spotted Bear even sells the Mountain Mint in little 200 ml flasks that are plastic and fit perfectly into your ski coat.
It is incredibly difficult to mimic peppermint or spearmint flavors through a chemical process. Spotted Bear sources all their peppermint from a nearby farm operated by Kirk Passmore – one of the last mint farms in the Flathead Valley. Passmore harvests the mint and extracts the oils using a still. The highly concentrated, and extremely fresh, peppermint oils are what Spotted Bear combines with a neutral distillate and cane sugar.
“I’ve had really creative bartenders do washes with it, kind of like you’d use an absinth,” Giovannetti said. “It can be pretty strong and overpowering in cocktails. So, with any fruitier notes or citrus, that wash is pretty much the level it can maintain. Otherwise, with more chocolate and coffee flavors, you can kind of go full in and it will kind of balance it out.”
Mint schnapps can be used to add distinctive flavors to pastries and desserts. Fleur Bake Shop, a downtown Whitefish bakery focusing on French-style pastries, uses the Mountain Mint and Spotted Bear Spirits’ limoncello and coffee liqueur in their macarons, Giovannetti said.
Spotted Bear Spirits is celebrating its seventh anniversary in December. The distillery is also launching a whole new revamp on labeling and branding with an elevated aesthetic. If you’re used to finding bottles by label, keep an eye out for the refreshed look.
Since production was moved off-site, Giovannetti said they will be offering privately lead tastings to bring back the personal nature of the tasting room.
“We want to bring in that vibe a bit more of a distillery tasting room,” he said. “Showcase the story of Spotted Bear, our ethos, our staff and crew and then get into the production process of what our new still looks like.”
Where to find it: Mountain Mint can be found at Spotted Bear Spirits tasting room at 503 Railway Street, Whitefish, and at restaurants and liquor stores throughout the state. Visit spottedbearspirits.com to learn more about the Tasting Room Experience and other events.
Mint Espresso Martini
1.5 oz Mountain Mint Schnapps
1 oz Spotted Bear Spirits Coffee Liqueur
1.5 oz Dark Roast Cold Brew Coffee
Add all ingredients to a shaker and add ice. Shake and double strain into a martini glass and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint.
Differences between spearmint and peppermint:
• Menthol: Spearmint has 0.5% menthol while peppermint has 40% menthol.
• Taste: Peppermint is sharper and almost spicy. Spearmint is more subtle and sweeter in flavor.
• Peppermint has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years with ancient records mentioning its use in digestive disorders.
• In recent history, peppermint is promoted for irritable bowel syndrome, digestive problems, colds, headaches and sinus infections.
• Peppermint oil is promoted as a topical application for muscle aches, itching joint pain and headaches.
• Peppermint oil in aromatherapy is promoted for treating coughs, colds, reducing pain, improving mental function and reducing stress.
Cooking with Booze:
• A 2003 study showed that between 5% and 85% of alcohol will remain in a recipe depending on the cooking time.
• Try substituting alcohol for extracts in a recipe.