The world of eau de vie, French for “water of life,” was once a sleepy category, relegated to the back corner of the bar. But it’s wide awake now.
“For me, eau de vie is a really exciting spirit,” says Collin Moody, general manager at Chicago’s Income Tax Bar. He’s curated a selection of eaux made by small grower-producers. “It’s really about preserving fruits and a sense of place.”
Most water-clear eau is unaged fruit brandy, as tradition dictates. It’s being made across the world in a wide variety of styles, from plum slivovitz to cherry-based kirsch, but not always just from fruit: There’s an American-made Douglas Fir brandy that’s like a breath of fresh forest air.
At home, Moody often serves the spirit neat after dinner parties.
“It has the lightness and freshness to energize me and our guests at the end of a meal,” he says. With a chuckle, he adds, “It helps you wake up and go do the dishes after everyone leaves instead of falling right to bed.”
Orchard & Stone Fruit
Kinsman Small Batch Texas Rakia Apricot Brandy; $50
Texas Rakia Apricot Brandy is an unusual spirit, and is made in the Central European style of rakia, fruit brandy traditionally made from grapes and/or stone fruit and occasionally herbs. Although distilled in San Antonio, this eau de vie is made using Serbian fruit and a copper still brought over from Belgrade; it’s about as close to the old-country version as you can get from a domestic producer. Look for a bold apricot aroma and almond richness on the palate, with a floral touch on the finish.
St. George Pear Brandy; $40
Used in so many stellar bottlings, pear is one of the most versatile fruits to turn into eau de vie. This Pear Brandy is one of the bolder ones, with plenty of bright, rounded pear aroma and flavor warmed by notes of honey and baking spice. It’s made from about 30 pounds of dry-farmed, organic Bartlett pears per bottle.
Maraska Sljivovica; $26
Among Eastern European countries, plum eau de vie has many names: slivovitz, slivovice, slivka, slivovica and, as this Croatian producer calls it, sljivovica. Some bottlings are practically firewater, but this is not one of them. Maraska Sljivovica shows robust blackberry and dark plum flavors touched with anise and black pepper.
Cherry & Berry
G.E. Massenez Kirsch Vieux; $50
Hailing from France’s Alsace region, this Morello cherry eau de vie offers a cherry jam aroma and flavor, plus an almond-like note suggestive of cherry stones as well as appropriately bracing alcohol heat. In German-speaking countries, cherry eaux de vie are usually called kirschwasser (cherry water).
Rochelt Black Elderberry; $350/375 ml
Rochelt Black Elderberry is clearly a splurge, but it’s a limited-edition bottling made from fruit grown without pesticides (120 pounds of fruit are needed to make just one liter) and rested in open-air glass demijohns for 13 years. This aging yields dark, wild notes of prune, coffee bean and clove. The Austrian producer also makes Gravenstein apple, Morello cherry, Muscat grape and Wachau apricot eaux de vie.
Schladerer Himbeergeist; $45
Himbeergeist is German for “raspberry spirit.” This one is distilled from wild raspberries harvested from the Carpathian mountains, which imbue the liquid with mild fruitiness and a waxy berry exhale.
Wolfberger Fleur de Bière; $34
The name of this eau de vie, distilled from a malt-based beer, translates to “beer flower.” Overall, the impression of Fleur de Bière is complex and spiced—think anise, caraway and white pepper, with just a hint of hoppy zing. Consider subbing it for gin or aquavit in cocktails to play up those nuanced spice notes.
Reisetbauer Carrot Eau de Vie; $80/375 ml
This palate-cleansing Austrian eau de vie might remind some of a delicate aquavit. Carrot Eau de Vie is fresh, clean and lightly vegetal, it doesn’t have an outright carroty flavor. It would be dynamite in a refined take on a Bloody Mary, with tomato water instead of tomato juice.
Clear Creek Distillery Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir; $47/375 ml
Based in Portland, Oregon, Clear Creek Distillery makes a number of wonderful spirits, but this is one of its most unusual. Inspired by a rare Alsace distillate made from pine buds, this version uses buds from Oregon’s state tree, the Douglas fir. The end result is a bracingly piney fragrance that evokes a walk in the forest, glass in hand.