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What is Eau de Vie?

by Renee Shelton

Eau de Vie is French for 'Water of Life,' and is defined as Brandy made of fruits. It is similar to Vodka in that it is clear, unaged with no added sweeteners. Only Grappa and Marc brandies are made from grapes. Eau de vie is processed only from fruits.

Fruit brandies are best chilled and served by themselves, and are made to be sipped. They are equally delicious added to fruit dessert recipes, such as sorbet or in a sauce to be served with fruit filled crepes, and also in mixed drinks. If served alone, they are often served after dinner as a digestion aid.

Fruit brandies are generally unaged, with a few exceptions. They are made in one of two ways. A common way is taking mashed fruit then fermenting and distilling it. Another way is to place the fruit directly in pure grain alcohol and then distill it. Some eaux de vie may be distilled more than once, and some may show a slight coloring due to aging.

Eau de Vie
Image above: Pear Eau de Vie, courtesy Scott Dexter through a creative commons license on Wikimedia commons.

Eau de Vie is often celebrated regionally, with specific countries specializing in different flavors. Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, OR, is a popular distillery in the US for eau de vie, and they give tours and tastings to those uninitiated in true fruit brandies. Grappa and Marc brandy are both brandies made from pomace, which is a byproduct from winemaking. Pomace is the actual solids left over, which include both fruit skins and stems. Grappa is clear and unsweetened, and the flavors can reflect what grape was used in the process.

There are many different fruits that make an eau de vie or fruit brandy, and some brands have made regions famous, and vice versa. Here are some popular fruit brandies to try along with the fruit they are made of.

  • Kirschwasser - Kirsch means 'cherry' in German, and this cherry brandy is very popular in both beverage service and pastry cooking. Kirsch is also found in recipes deglazing pans for savory meat sauces. They are best made from sweet, black cherries.
  • Poire - Some pear brandies are uniquely found with a whole pear in the bottle. A good poire will be very smooth with a great pear flavor.
  • Framboise - Raspberry eaux de vie go well with chocolate dishes, and have almost a perfume-like aftertaste when sipped. Clear framboise eau de vie should not be confused with the highly sweetened and colored framboise raspberry liqueur.
  • Calvados - Calvados is a regional specialty and only made in France. Other apple brandies exist and all are generally aged in barrels to impart the characteristic color and flavor of apple brandy. Calvados is a highly regarded apple brandy.
  • Mirabelle - This is plum brandy made from yellow plums but other plums are used in fruit brandy making, such as Quetsch, which is made from the dark-skinned quetsch plums.
  • Grappa and Marc Brandy - This fruit brandy is made from pomace, essentially discards from winemaking. Grappa comes from Italy and Marc brandy comes from France.


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