Definitions

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Snaps

[snap]
Snaps is a small shot of a strong alcoholic beverage taken during the course of a meal, very much like the German schnapps. Drinking snaps is a tradition in Scandinavia, especially in Sweden and Denmark.

A snaps is usually brændevin/brännvin (which may be vodka or akvavit), but can also be some other light-bodied spirit, as long as it isn't sweet. Snaps is usually distilled from grain or potato and is, in its raw form, without fragrance. Most snaps have flavour added as a part of the production or later. This can come from storing in casks or by adding, for example, herbs. The flavour of the spirit should be in harmony with the flavour of the meal. Spirits such as whisky or brandy are seldom drunk as snaps, but it is more and more common with e.g. a smokey whisky to some meals.

Danes, Swedes and Swedish-speaking Finns have a tradition of singing songs, drikkeviser/snapsvisor, before drinking snaps. The drikkevise/snapsvisa is typically an ode to the joys of snaps and praises its flavour, or expresses a craving for the drink.

Snaps (and drikkeviser/snapsvisor) are an inseparable part of crayfish parties, which are notoriously tipsy affairs, even by Swedish and Finnish standards. This is not a surprise, since dozens of songs might be sung during such a meal, and every song demands a round of snaps. However, the glass does not need to be emptied every time and it is recommended not to drink the snaps too fast. An entrée consisting of sild/sill (pickled herring) and potatoes is most typically served with snaps, as is also the infamous Swedish surströmming, which most people can't stomach and which some find impossible to swallow without an accompanying snaps. This heritage comes from the brännvinsbord, an archaic Swedish entrée.

Home distilling and home flavouring

Distilling your own snaps is illegal in Scandinavian countries. An exception is Denmark where distillation is legal, but must be reported to tax authorities and the same taxes as on commercial liquor must be paid. Home distilling was earlier a widespread tradition, but today it is very limited as it is difficult for the home distiller to achieve the same very high quality of commercial snaps. Illegal home distilling is still a tradition in many rural communities in Norway and Sweden.

A tradition of "home flavouring" one's snaps exists in Scandinavia. This tradition is strongest in the southern areas, particularly Denmark. A modern Snaps enthusiast will typically buy a commercially-made, neutral-tasting Snaps, then add flavour by adding selected herbs, found in nature or grown in the garden. For instance, in northern Denmark, various spices are added to snaps to make a version called "Bjesk", meaning "bitter".

Popular choices in home flavouring include, but are certainly not limited to: Bog-myrtle (Myrica gale L.), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa L.), Dill (Anethum graveolens L.), Persian Walnut (Juglans regia L.). , St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum L.), Absinth Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.), and Woodruff (Galium odoratum L.). Plants are commonly used individually, but some enthusiasts experiment with mixing to achieve the perfect flavour.

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