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Produced in mainly in Germany, but also in Switzerland and the Alsace region of France, Kirsch's full name is kirsch wasser (pronounced vasser), meaning cherry water. Originating from the Black Forest, in the Southern area of the country, it's an eau de vie (a type of brandy) made by double-distilling the fermented juice of the sour morello cherry. As it's not aged in contact with wood (barrels are coated with wax to prevent this happening), kirsch is clear in colour, and the flavour subtly hints at its cherry origins, rather than being sweet and cloying. It has a high alcohol content; serve on its own or in cocktails, or use it sparingly in cooking to add a discreet suggestion of sour cherry.
Good kirsch eaux-de-vie brands to drink straight or for cooking with are thought to include Miclo, from the Alsace region of France, very close to Germany, and Fassbind, from Switzerland. You can also buy kirsch liqueurs, which are cheaper, and stickier in consistency; they are better to use in mixed drinks - try De Kuyper or Bols.
To drink, kirsch can be served chilled as an apéritif, in a small glass, but it's more usual to serve good quality kirsch as an after-dinner digestif, as you would other brandies - in which case it should be room temperature, and drunk from a brandy balloon, whose wide bottom is designed to be cupped by the drinker, so that they can warm the kirsch with their hands. This helps it to release its flavour and aroma.
In an airtight bottle in a cool, dark place. It should last for a year or two.
Beat a couple of tablespoons into whipped cream to serve with shortcake; add to fondue; use to make Black Forest gateau, cherry granita or add to trifle; use to make cocktails or add to cherry milkshakes or smoothies for an alcoholic kick.