Alsace 101: Eau de Vie
February 26, 2018
In Alsace, the eau de vie may take a back seat to better-known table wines, but to Alsatians, it’s part of their heritage, with distilling recipes passed down through the generations.
Translated as “water of life,” eau de vie is a clear, aromatic spirit distilled from orchard fruits such as plum (Mirabelle), cherry (kirsch) and pear, and field berries such as raspberries and strawberries. More exotic flavors include sloe, holly and elderberry, and even more uncommon are those produced from pine-tree buds dog-rose hips and rowanberry. These spirits are clean and packed with aromatics and flavors from their source.
The fruit (or berry) is collected, sorted and crushed, left to ferment and then stored in air-tight containers before distillation in copper pot stills with non-aged Cognac. The alcohol level is high—about 45 percent—but the spirit is balanced with pure fruit expression.
Unlike sweeter fruit liqueurs, eau de vie are dry, without added sugar or artificial flavoring. They are not aged, and will keep in a cool place away from light. They’re typically served chilled and in chilled glasses at the end of meal, but in Alsace, they’re often drunk with cheese or a tart. Some multigenerational distillers say eaux de vie have medicinal properties.
Much of the production is drunk in France, with only a small amount coming to the United States. But when in Alsace, look for these elegant spirits, which have a place of pride in many of the villages along the famous wine route.