Kirschwasser (/ˈkɪərʃvɑːsər/, UK also /-væsər/; German: [ˈkɪɐʃvasɐ], German for "cherry water") or kirsch is a clear, colorless brandy traditionally made from double distillation of morello cherries, a dark-colored cultivar of the sour cherry. It is now also made from other kinds of cherries. The cherries are fermented completely, including their stones.[1] Unlike cherry liqueurs and cherry brandies, kirschwasser is not sweet. It is sometimes distilled from fermented cherry juice.[2]

Kirschwasser, produced in Germany and bottled at 40% ABV


Kirschwasser is usually imbibed neat. It is traditionally served cold in a very small glass and is taken as an apéritif. It is an important ingredient in fondue. People in the German-speaking region where it originated usually serve it after dinner, as a digestif.

Kirschwasser is used in some cocktails, such as the Ladyfinger, the Florida, and the Rose.

High-quality kirschwasser should be served around 16 °C (61 °F), warmed by the hands as with brandy.[3]

Origin and production

Illustration of the morello cherry

Because morellos were originally grown in the Black Forest regions of Germany, kirschwasser is believed to have originated there. Kirschwasser is colourless because it is either not aged in wood or is aged in barrels made of ash. It may have been aged in paraffin-lined wood barrels or in earthenware vessels.[1]' Rivals in producing high quality "Kirsch" are Switzerland and Elsass (Alsace), the latter even has a kirschwasser route ("Route-du-pays-du-kirsch"), and other quality cherry production german speaking areas like South Tyrolia.

In France and in English-speaking countries, clear fruit brandies are known as eaux de vie. The European Union sets a minimum of 37.5% ABV (75 proof) for products of this kind; kirschwasser typically has an alcohol content of 40%–50% ABV (80–100 proof). About 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cherries go into the making of a 750 ml bottle of kirschwasser.

Two Swiss varieties, Zuger Kirsch and Rigi Kirsch have been certified as AOP since 2013.[4]

Chemical composition

Compared with brandy or whisky the characteristic features of kirsch are (a) that it contains relatively large quantities of higher alcohols and compound ethers, and (b) the presence in this spirit of small quantities of Hydrogen cyanide, partly as such and partly in combination as benzaldehyde-cyanhydrin, to which the distinctive flavour of kirsch is largely due.[5]


Urschwyzer kirsch, produced in Switzerland and bottled at 40% ABV

Kirsch is sometimes used in Swiss fondue and in some cakes,[6] such as the Zuger Kirschtorte. It is also commonly used in the dessert cherries jubilee.

It is used in traditional German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest gateau) and in other cakes—for example in Gugelhupf cake.

Kirsch can also be used in the filling of chocolates. A typical kirsch chocolate consists of no more than one milliliter of kirsch, surrounded by milk or (more usually) dark chocolate with a film of hard sugar between the two parts. The hard sugar acts as an impermeable casing for the liquid content and also compensates for the lack of sweetness that is typical of kirsch. Swiss chocolatiers Lindt & Sprüngli and Camille Bloch, among others, manufacture these kirsch chocolates.

See also


  1. Lichine, Alexis. Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), p. 292.
  2. "Kirsch - distilled liquor". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  3. Brandl, Franz (23 April 2018). Cocktails: Über 1000 Drinks mit und ohne Alkohol - Erweiterte Neuausgabe des Standardwerks. ISBN 9783641232320.
  4. Kirsch in the online Culinary Heritage of Switzerland database.
  5. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Kirsch". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 834.
  6. Use of kirsch in a traditional Swiss cake
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