This thing’s got bite. Probably not for those weak of heart, but if you like a little heat in your glass, eau de vie has your name written all over it. Eau de vie, or “water of life,” is a unique class of fruit brandies that are crystal clear. But trust us, you don’t want to mistake it for the innocuous liquid after which it’s named.
The heat in eau de vie comes from its high level of alcohol, usually around 40%. Swirl it in a glass and wave it under your nose and you can feel its power before you even taste it. But don’t let its strength fool you. There is a delicacy and purity to this spirit that almost makes you forget that this stuff is strong. Well, that is at least until the hangover the next morning.
What gives eau de vie that concentration of soft, fruit aromas and flavors is the large amount of ripe fruit used to make a single bottle. On average around 30 to 50 pounds of fruit, picked at peak ripeness, goes into making a quality eau de vie. However all this juicy fruit does not result in an intense fruit bomb. The fruit flavors are rather delicate, but extremely focused. And there’s quite a selection of flavors to choose from. The vast array makes the produce selection at Whole Foods look paltry. We’re talking about everything from apricots to rowanberry, and if you’ve never had a rowanberry this could be a good place to start.
The eau de vie that we had recently, that reminded us how much we like eau de vie, is from the Austrian producer Hans Reisetbauer. We tried the apricot, plum and wild cherry flavors, which were phenomenal. What we loved about it was the overall balance and delicacy. These spirits didn’t hit you over the head with flavor, it was more like a gentle tapping. Some of the other interesting flavors from this producer are pear, ginger, raspberry and rowanberry (yes, it really does come in rowanberry - sold at Smith and Vine in Brooklyn for around $120).
The key to enjoying a good eau de vie is a full stomach and small glasses. It’s pretty potent but considering how much effort and time goes into making a single half bottle, it’s probably best that we sip.