Siem Reap resident Dierk Brockschmidt has found a novel use for the fruits of his cashew orchard
It’s a little known fact that cashews are not actually nuts but a seed carried on a fruit called the cashew apple. This juicy fruit – which has a sweet flavour like a cross between an apple and a pear – has a soft, easily bruised skin that makes it difficult to transport. However, it’s ideal for making drinks, particularly alcoholic ones.
Dierk Brockschmidt, 38, hails from the industrial city of Stuttgart in Germany, where his family has a long-held tradition of creating juices, wines and schnapps from the harvest of their orchards to give away to friends and other family members. It is one of those things the family does together. Some families play Scrabble; the Brockschmidts distil booze.
So when Brockschmidt discovered 20 cashew trees growing on the 10,000 square metre block of land he bought outside of Poul town near Siem Reap, he knew exactly what to do with them. He set about constructing his own still in his garage, and with a 200-litre steel drum, some clamps, pipes, a gas burner and a thermometer he melded and welded together a contraption based on a typical German model.
“Like the schnapps we make at home in Germany, it’s all organic,” said Brockschmidt of the resulting tipple. “No pesticides or anything like that have been used on the land, so it’s much healthier.”
There is one big difference between the process here and there though. Thanks to the heat, the fermentation process is a lot quicker.
“Usually in Germany, you have to wait two or three weeks before the fruits start to ferment. Here it starts to happen in two or three hours. And the cashew apple is sweet enough that I don’t usually have to add any sugar to make the alcohol.”
Schnapps is a strong alcoholic drink, most commonly made with fruit, though some are grain-based. It goes by other names too, such as eau de vie in France or grappa in Italy, and is created by distilling fermented fruits. The result is a clear beverage with a typical alcohol level above 35 per cent usually served as an aperitif, though it can also be used in cooking – think Black Forest gateau and chocolate pralines.
From 80 litres of fermented fruit, some yeast and water, Brockschmidt is able to distill about eight litres of schnapps, which comes out with an alcohol level of roughly 80 per cent. He brings this down to 43 per cent by adding distilled water.
Last month, Brockschmidt started selling his schnapps at Siem Reap’s Angkor Market under the label Samnangkor, where bottles retail at $1.70 for 75ml, $4.50 for 250ml and $9 for 500ml. He’s also looking at making more schnapps with other fruits from his garden, including mango, guava and banana, and also hopes to help his neighbours by buying up their crops as well.
“I loved it when I heard my friends were making Black Forest gateau with my schnapps,” he said.
“The cashew apple is lovely for the taste, but I’d also like to use herbs like lemongrass and ginger as well and create something like Jägermeister. There are so many possibilities here.”