Peppermint schnapps is mostly known for producing the only hangover that comes with fresh breath. The drink of choice at ski lodges or smuggled onto a chairlift, the cooling liqueur has mostly escaped the focus of modern craft distilleries. But this year, Lee Spirits in Colorado Springs added its take on peppermint schnapps to the very short list of American small-batch producers making the spirit.
Ian and Nick Lee founded Lee Spirits in 2014 to create Prohibition-era gin. But after adding a tasting room in 2015, they realized they'd need other spirits to make the cocktails they found in recipe books going back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. The two cousins soon added other long-forgotten products, including crème de violette, crème de rose, Forbidden Fruit (a liqueur flavored with grapefruit, spices and honey) and flavored gins that could be used in a wide variety of mixed drinks. But something minty was needed for classic cocktails like the Grasshopper and the mint Alexander.
"We've been making a version of peppermint schnapps since that time," Ian notes, but until this year it was only available at the tasting room. Distributors started requesting a wider range of spirits to place in liquor stores and bars, though, and the Lees knew the schnapps was one of their most popular offerings, so they increased production to be able to distribute it beyond Colorado Springs.
In Germany, schnapps are traditionally high-proof spirits flavored with fruits or herbs. In England and America, they evolved into sweeter, lower-proof sippers in the range of 20 to 30 percent alcohol by volume. Legally, schnapps made in the U.S. are no different than liqueurs; they must contain at least 2.5 percent sugar by weight. The Lees stick with German tradition, bottling their peppermint schnapps at 90 proof. They use organic peppermint oil for the flavor and high-quality cane sugar to add a little sweetness; the use of those ingredients results in a slight haze in the otherwise colorless liquid.
Nick recommends using the schnapps in cocktails or just by itself. "Straight is the classic way most people like to drink schnapps," he notes. You can use it in cocktails that call for crème de menthe, keeping in mind that it will be higher in alcohol and lacking the Scope-green tint. (Lee Spirits has recipes on its website using many of its products.)
I asked Kari Cummings, bar manager at Vesta, if she could come up with a cocktail using Lee Spirits' peppermint schnapps, so she paired it with with a cacao-infused rum from Panama called SelvaRey. Here's her recipe:
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1 ounce Lee Spirits peppermint schnapps
.5 ounce SelvaRey Cacao
1 ounce Left Hand Pixan Pepper Porter (or similar porter)
.25 ounce harissa honey
.25 ounce aquafaba or egg white
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass.
While you may not have all of the ingredients on hand, a few easy substitutions will work fine. The Left Hand porter and harissa honey (which Cummings makes for Vesta's bar) add a warming note from chiles to balance the cooling mint, so you can use standard porter and honey and just add a pinch of chile powder (or Savory Spice's harissa blend) in the shaker, or use Mike's Hot Honey. Aquafaba is nothing more than the juice of soaked garbanzo beans; you can strain off a little liquid straight from the can. Although it sounds a little odd, the liquid gives the same airy quality as egg whites but doesn't add a beany flavor.
Lee Spirits peppermint schnapps can be found at Argonaut Liquors at 700 East Colfax Avenue and at similar shops carrying a range of Colorado spirits.