Spirited - Eaux de Vie
Franz Scheurer looks at the ‘Water of Life’
The name ‘Eau de Vie’ is a reminder that distillation was invented in the pursuit of cures for ailments. It didn’t take long, however, for more self-indulgent uses to establish themselves: like drinking and enjoyment. An Eau de Vie (plural Eaux de Vie) is a clear fruit-based spirit, rarely stored in wood and usually bottled, sold and enjoyed young (technically it includes clear spirits distilled from grape skins such as grappa and marc, though these are usually considered separately). Unlike other spirits, good Eau de Vie captures fresh, lively fruit flavours rather than the depth, weight or complexity achieved by oxidation and prolonged wood contact. The distiller’s aim is to preserve as much of the fruit as possible, on the nose, on the palate and in the drinker’s taste memory. This can only be achieved by using premium fruit at perfect ripeness, and preferably using a Holstein still, which heats the fruit wine indirectly, avoiding unwanted caramel flavours. A traditional European meal will finish with an Eau de Vie.
Here are three of the best:
The Ultimate Pear Eau de Vie
Etter Poire Williams
This is an unbelievably fragrant spirit made in Zug, Switzerland by third generation distiller, Hans Etter, from prime Swiss Williams pears. As soon as you open the bottle the aroma of pears fills the room. It rewards with powerful fruit flavours on the palate, a soft, caressing, highly textured, sweet mouth feel and a long, dry finish. Exquisite!
Bottled in a 700ml bottle at 42% a/vol
The Potent Alsatian
Protected by the Vosges Mountains, the Alsatian village of Uberach is blessed with a climate that, in combination with the fertile alluvial soil, produces fabulous fruit, which the family Bertrand has distilled into Eaux de Vie since 1874. Mirabelles are small, sweet yellow plums, ideal for distillation. The resulting spirit is fruity with perfectly balanced acid, leaving sweet plumy aromas, a deeply mouth-filling fruit hit with some perceived alcohol-related sweetness and a slow, dry finish that entices you to do this all over again. Superb!
Bottled in a 700ml bottle at 45% a/vol
The Prime Australian
Eling Forest Peach Eau de Vie
Distilled from 100% Australian peaches, this is a terrifically fragrant, dry and perfectly clear spirit, with no apparent sweetness, a strong fruit flavour and a long, satisfying finish, reminiscent of a walk in the woods. Relaxing!
Bottled in a 500ml bottle at 40% a/vol.
Place a cube of white sugar infused with 4 drops of Angostura bitters into a glass; add 1 nip of Bacardi 8 y/o brown rum. Stir until the sugar is totally dissolved. Add 2 nips of your favourite Eau de Vie, stir, pour into a Martini glass and garnish with a slice of candied orange peel. Do not add ice.