Some drinkers mix it with orange juice to create what they call a Fuzzy Navel. Chef Georges Beaudoin of the Montreal restaurant Le Mas des Oliviers uses it to make a sauce for his exotic duck dish, Canard aux Pêches. But for John LynchStaunton, the president of Montrealbased John de Kuyper & Son (Canada) Ltd.—who drinks it straight over ice— peach schnapps is an unexpected marketing success. Since it introduced Original Peachtree Schnapps in the United States two years ago, de Kuyper has sold more than 24 million bottles. And in Canada, where it became available last February, the beverage was the second-largest-selling domestic liqueur in August. While schnapps is still the warming drink of choice for football fans or outdoorsmen on cold days, it is now a hot new favorite indoors as well, with a wide range of flavors from cinnamon and apple to watermelon and pina colada.
The English word schnapps is a slight corruption of the German schnaps, meaning “dram of liquor.” Originally from Germany, schnapps has traditionally been swallowed in a single gulp, followed by a beer chaser. Indeed, for more than 50 years, Windsor, Ont.-based Hiram Walker Inc. has marketed a brand of peppermint schnapps. But now most distillers are aiming their marketing of the new, fruit-flavored schnapps at young adults whose faddish approach to drinking leaves them in a constant search for new taste sensations. According to industry executives, peach schnapps has become popular because it can be mixed with a range of drinks and foods, from cola or coffee to ice cream. Said Thomas Maas, senior brand manager for liqueurs at Hiram Walker, which markets 12 varieties of schnapps: “A variety of mixing and taste possibilities means the fad for a drink will last longer.”
In a distilled-spirits market that experienced a decline of almost three per cent in sales last year, schnapps is one of the few growing products. De Kuyper’s success with Peachtree has led several other distillers, including Montreal-based Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Ltd., to market their own peach schnapps. As well, liquor companies have experimented with other flavors—including root beer, banana, chocolate and apricot. In fact, varieties of schnapps accounted for 13 of the 52 new products introduced in Canada by
major distillers in the year ending last June. And with an alcohol content ranging from 24 to 30 per cent alcohol by volume compared to roughly 40 per cent for most whiskies, the new schnapps are expected to attract drinkers who prefer lighter beverages.
But peach is the flavor that has captured the attention of most of the new schnapps drinkers, with about 80 per cent of the market. Schnapps has made its greatest inroads among young adults, and much of the advertising is aimed at that market. Fully half of de Kuyper’s Canadian sales of Original Peachtree are in Ontario, with Quebec consumers accounting for much of the rest. But industry executives say that they see encouraging signs that schnapps is crossing into other areas and age groups.
Schnapps converts themselves say that the new flavored liqueurs have put more fun and taste into drinking. Nancy Hughes, 22, who operates the scoreboard at the Montreal Forum, has had fewer Twist Shandys since she discovered the Fuzzy Navel last July. Said Hughes: “It’s not too sweet, and I like the fruit taste.” Now, distillery executives can only hope that enthusiasm like hers represents more than a passing fad for their flagging industry.
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