Eau de Vie: Capturing Fruit (and More) in a Bottle
I was astonished to learn about the existence of carrot eau de vie.
Technically, such a thing shouldn’t exist: eau de vie (French for “water of life”) is usually defined as clear, unaged fruit brandy.
Carrots, of course, aren’t fruit. Ginger isn’t a fruit either. But both roots have plenty of natural sweetness, and so Austrian spirits producer Reisetbauer managed to ferment and distill each into intriguing eaux de vie, with a clean delicacy that transcends the shock value of the base ingredient.
Traditional fruit-based eaux de vie are worth seeking out, particularly for those nostalgic for fresh summer and autumn harvests. Distillers manage to pack an astounding amount of fruit—15 to 20 pounds—into a slender 375-ml bottle. Just think about how many pies or preserves could be made with all those pears, plums or berries. And many of these, particularly the pear distillates, retain that elusive fresh-picked fruit fragrance in a way that jams and jellies do not.
Why aren’t more people drinking eaux de vie? Frankly, unlike more mellow barrel-aged brandies tinged with vanilla, many eaux de vie still retain a knife-edge of alcohol heat. Still, quite a few can be sipped straight, and provide a refreshing counterpoint to cheeses and rich desserts.
Meanwhile, bartenders are starting to experiment more with eaux de vie to add bright fruit notes to cocktails. Houston bartender Chris Frankel, for example, subs it for aged brandy in classic cocktails, creating a cherry-inflected kirschwasser sazerac or a plummy slivovitz old-fashioned. He even created a gin-and-tonic riff, lightening apricot eau de vie with housemade tonic.
Carrot eau de vie doesn’t seem to have the same traction on U.S. drink menus—at least, not yet. But we’re confident that it’s only a matter of time until it becomes an essential component in the ultimate greenmarket bloody mary.
Reisetbauer Carrot (Austria; Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY); $55/375 ml, 95 points. Fresh, clean and lightly vegetal—but not outright carroty—this palate-cleanser of an eau de vie will remind some of a delicate aquavit. It would be dynamite in a refined take on a bloody mary with tomato water instead of tomato juice.
Clear Creek Distillery Williams Pear Brandy (USA; Clear Creek Distillery, Portland, OR); $28/375 ml, 94 points. Soft and subtle, this clear eau de vie has a gentle but authentic fresh pear aroma. On the palate, it’s slightly perfumy, then pear flavor bursts through on the finish, accompanied by spicy ginger and white-pepper notes. Overall, this offers a remarkably pure expression of fruit.
St. George Pear Brandy (USA; St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA); $40, 93 points. One of the bolder pear brandies, it offers a bright, slightly sweet fresh pear and honey aroma. Flavor-wise it offers a big pop of rounded pear warmed with baking spice entices up front. Made from dry-farmed organic Bartlett pears, about 30 pounds of fruit per bottle. Best Buy.
Coppersea Distilling Pear Eau de Vie (USA; Coppersea Distilling, West Park, NY); $60/375 ml, 90 points. This is reminiscent of rustic tarts. The pear fragrance features a robust malty note, and the flavor is warm, showing baked pear and cinnamon heat that seems to gather strength. The finish is exceedingly long and slightly perfumy.
Montelle Distillery Cherry Eau de Vie (USA; Montelle Winery, August, MO); $17/375 ml, 89 points. The rich, slightly sweet aroma is delectable and redolent of cherry pie filling. Made with tart cherries, this clear spirit has a faint, slightly bitter almond flavor and a pleasant cherry-flesh finish, plus a rousing bite of alcohol heat. Best Buy.
Subarashii Kudamono Asian Pear Eau de Vie (USA; Subarashii Kudamono, Kempton, PA); $46/375 ml, 89 points. While most pear brandies are made using Williams or Bartlett pears, this variation is made with Asian pears picked from Pennsylvanian orchards. The end result is fresh and clean, moderately drying, with a sweet fragrance that evokes pears as well as apples and grapes.
Uve DiLanga Grappa (Italy; Vias Imports, New York, NY); $65/ 1 L, 89 points. Made with Moscato grapes, this spirit offers a sweet and perfumy aroma. On the palate, expect delicate, lingering notes of violet, rosewater and raspberry, finishing with white-pepper heat.
Schladerer Williams Birne (Germany; Niche Import Co., Cedar Knolls, NJ); $50, 87 points. This clear eau de vie mixes pear and malty notes in the aroma. On the palate, the pear flavor fades quickly, leaving behind a slight bitterness on the finish and alcohol heat around the edges of the tongue, plus a slight saline note.