As common as schnaps was, it was rarely very good. "The pears and apples you couldn't sell, you used them for schnaps," Hammerle said. Nowadays, he added, producers realize that you cannot make fine schnaps from subpar fruit. As an example, he poured a schnaps made from Williams pears (the same variety as Bartlett) from Stockvogler's, a distillery one hour south of Vienna, into a traditional long-stemmed, V-shaped glass. The nose was incredible, a burst of sharp pear skin, and when I sipped it, the potent elixir spread ripe fruit and warm alcohol through every part of my mouth. It was, at first taste, the best pear I'd ever eaten—and yet it was like no pear I'd ever eaten. Abstracted from the action of biting and chewing, the schnaps was the Platonic ideal of the Williams pear.
That impression got complicated as we tasted different scnaps and I encountered less-familiar fruits. I recognized the floral, citrusy quince, but the powerful almond flavor of rowanberries was altogether new to me, as was the mysterious mispel, with its vegetal, almost pickled-artichoke taste. (I later learned mispel is Japanese loquat. That hardly helped.) How could I make sense of these drinks? It was like reading Joyce's Ulysses without ever having heard of the Odyssey.