I’d be happy to tell you what I know, reader Max. It’s a cherry brandy. The name simply means “cherry” in German, and part of the reason it’s so apropos in a Black Forest cake is because it hails from that region. Morello cherries — the European Continent’s go-to sour cherry — originated in the Black Forest. As for who first started making alcoholic beverages out of Black Forest cherries, well that’s anybody’s guess. You can make wine out of just about any fruit and the practice of winemaking goes back literally thousands of years in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Fruit brandies are another matter entirely. A brandy as you may remember is a distilled wine, and distillation requires more than just an earthenware crock and a desire to tie one on. It demands sophisticated gear and at least a little know-how to avoid going blind among other things. All that didn’t come along in Europe until the High Middle Ages (about 1100 – 1300 A.D.). Continentals have known the true meaning of the word “hangover” ever since.
It’s a fair bet that kirschwasser (cherry “water”) came along sometime during or shortly after distillation came into common use, though I’ve not been able to dig up any precise dates. However I can tell you one or two things that distinguish kirsch from other fruit brandies. First, it’s clear. That’s because it isn’t aged in wood barrels or casks, which are what cause spirits like whiskey to pick up brown colors. Also unlike a lot of fruit brandies it’s made with fruit that’s been fermented whole. The reason for that is of course to infuse the wine (the precursor to the brandy) with those almond-like stone fruit flavor notes.
And that’s pretty much all I know, Max! Thanks for the question!