Often an ambiguous term that can imply a variety of alcoholic spirits, Eau de Vie is a popular drink in both France and abroad. In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about Eau de Vie, how it’s made and how to drink it as well as the best brands online:

Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.

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What Is Eau-De-Vie?

Wolfberger Eau de Vie

Wolfberger Eaux-de-Vie

In short, Eau-de-Vie is a clear fruit brandy that’s produced through fermentation and double distillation. However, it’s a little bit more complicated than that as we will explain in detail.

Like the Scandinavian “Akvavit“, Eau-de-Vie’s name derives from the Latin “Aqua Vitae”, which means “water of life”. Indeed, it has Medieval origins and was first produced by alchemists seeking to create an elixir.

Similar to Jenever and later gin, it was long used for medicinal purposes as a topical and internal antiseptic up until the early 20th Century.

Colloquially, the French will use the term “Eau-de-Vie” to refer to just about any distilled spirit much like the Germans with “Schnaps“. Indeed, even vodka is considered an Eau-de-Vie! Although this can lead to some confusion, there are specific varieties of Eau-de-Vie, which are often associated with the term.

As mentioned earlier, Eau-de-Vie is typically derived from fruit, and can be specifically called an “eau-de-vie de fruit”. Yet, there is “eau-de-vie de vin”, which is produced by distilling wine. Additionally, Eau-de-Vie can be made from grape must pomace or lees (moût), beer, and grain.

Wolfberger Eau de Vie Labels

Wolfberger Eaux-de-Vie

However, this guide will mainly consider fruit Eau-de-Vie as it is by far the most common and popular variety. Historically, many landowners with orchards would have copper pot stills for producing their own Eau-de-Vie following the harvest.

While there are some extremely refined Eaux-de-Vie that are enjoyed by high social classes, there are cheap, coarser varieties that are considered a popular drink. These are often affectionately referred to as “goutte” or “gnôle” in France.

What Does Eau-de-Vie Taste Like?

Given its concentration of about 45% ABV or more, Eau-de-Vie has a strong alcoholic nose that can initially be somewhat overpowering. Therefore, caution is advised to not paralyse the nasal receptors.

Once that the alcohol bloom has subsided, Eau-de-Vie will reveal its light fruity notes that tend to be somewhat eucalyptic and tingle the nose.

Similarly, the mouthfeel is often quite warming with a prickly finish but it can occasionally be quite drying. In some cases, the fruit flavours are present upon the opening. However, sometimes they don’t reveal themselves until the finish, which is usually remarkably long.

Unlike most alcoholic beverages, Eau-de-Vie shouldn’t be kept on the palate for too long as it can actually burn the taste buds. Therefore, it is often swallowed soon after hitting the tongue rather than rolled around the palate.

Depending on the fruit used, an Eau-de-Vie may have a particularly unique aroma. That said, even those using the same fruits can be vastly different depending on the entire production process.

How Eau-de-Vie Is Made & Its Ingredients

Bartlett Pears, St George Distillery

Bartlett Pears, St George Distillery

Unlike vodka, akvavit, gin, or even jenever, Eau-de-Vie isn’t produced by distilling grain. Instead, being a fruit brandy, it is only made using fruit. In almost all cases, there will only one variety such as Williams pears or Mirabelle plums.

An Eau-de-Vie’s quality greatly depends on its ingredients. Therefore, fruit that has grown in optimal conditions tends to yield the best results. Similarly, only properly ripened fruit is fermented. In most cases, this is after picking. However, pear tends to require several days of cellar storage first.

Lance Winters St George Spirits Master Distiller

Lance Winters, St George Spirits Master Distiller

Once the fruit is ripe, it is placed in sealed steel vats or even plastic barrels. Sometimes it is macerated into a pulp but some varieties will simply use the whole fruit. For context, 14 kg (30 lb) of pears are needed to produce a single litre of Eau-de-Vie.

Here it is left to ferment like beer or cider, which can take several weeks and well over a month. Occasionally, some producers will use yeast or enzymes to accelerate the process.

Although sugar was often used in the past to accelerate fermentation, this practice is no longer permitted in France.

Distillation & Rest

Rudolf Jelinek Stills

Rudolf Jelinek Distillery

Immediately following fermentation, the pulp is distilled. Traditionally, this was achieved with a copper pot still. However, column stills aren’t uncommon today.

After a second distillation, the liquid is stored in glass vessels known as “Dame Jeanne”, which are sealed with cloth for between 6 months to a year. This final process allows the alcohol to finish and develop a more harmonious flavour thanks to the evaporation of impurities.

In the case of Eau-de-Vie, casking is extremely rare. However, some Alpine varieties may barrel age instead to produce different flavours. Additionally, Eau-de-Vie de marc made from grape must or pomace will often be barrel-aged for around a decade after distillation.

Wolfberger Copper Still In Alsace

Wolfberger Copper Still

Typical Alcohol Volume Percentage

Once the finishing process has completed, the spirit is diluted with water. Traditionally, most Eaux-de-Vie has an ABV of 45% with a legal minimum of 37.5%. However, some varieties may be stronger. This mostly depends on the region and its own traditional methods.

Wolfberger Oenologue

Wolfberger Oenologist

Different Types & Varieties Of Eau-de-Vie

Cleebourg Eau de Vie by Ji-Elle CC 3

Ji-Elle, CC 3.0

As mentioned above, Eau-de-Vie will usually refer to a spirit that has been produced by distilling different varieties of fruit. Below are some of the most common varieties that you can find:

  • Williams Poire: The most popular variety of Eau-de-Vie uses Williams pears.
  • Mirabelle: Another popular variety, which consists of small and sweet yellow plums.
  • Framboise: Raspberry Eau-de-Vie also referred to as Himbeergeist by the Germans.
  • Kirsch: Also known as Kirschwasser Schnaps in Germany, Kirsch is produced using morello cherries.
  • Poire Prisonnière: Pears are grown inside shaped bottles on the tree, which adds flavour when the spirit is introduced.
  • Prune: Although Mirabelle is the best known for Eau-de-Vie, other varieties can be used.
  • Coing: Similar in appearance to a pear, quince is a very popular choice for preserves and Eau-de-Vie in France.
  • Quetsche: Damson, often incorporated into gin as an alternative to sloes, can be distilled into an Eau-de-Vie.
  • Abricot: Less common than other fruit varieties, apricot has been known to be used.
  • Baies de Sorbier: Rowan Eau-de-Vie is rarer than other Eaux-de-Vie but a renowned variety.
  • Vin: Wine brandies most famously include Armagnac and Cognac.
  • Marc: Once pressed grapes are pressed for wine, the pomace or must is fermented and distilled into a spirit.
  • Cidre: Cider and perry is distilled into a spirit. The most famous example is Calvados from Normandy.

Other Eau-de-Vie Varieties

While we have listed a wide selection of different Eau-de-Vie that you can typically find on the market, it is by no means exhaustive. For instance, French colonists popularised Eau-de-Vie in Caribbean regions, which gave rise to varieties made from banana, mango, and pineapple to name a few.

Similarly, you can also find maple syrup Eau-de-Vie in Canada as well as Douglas Fir brandy in the USA.

Of course, other countries and regions have their own take on Eau-de-Vie. For example, the Balkans produce Rakia, and Hungary has Pálinka. Given their own regional characteristics and identities, we will eventually be covering them individually in detail as we have done with Schnaps.

How To Serve & Drink Eau-de-Vie

Traditionally, Eau-de-Vie is served as a digestif following a large meal. On some occasions, it is accompanied with coffee and even dark chocolate. However, it is usually served just beforehand.

In some circles, the Eau-de-Vie and coffee are mixed by adding a small drop of the spirit to an espresso mug after each sip. Nevertheless, this is usually a more working class practice and is mostly associated with Calvados apple brandy.

In more serious scenarios, a fine tulip or copita nosing glass will be used to consume small 1 cl or 2 cl servings. Traditionally, Eau-de-Vie should be served at room temperature. However, it’s not uncommon to chill it, which can reduce the presence of the alcohol.

Given its strong alcohol content, the glass is brought to the nose and only smelled with small, gentle inhalations.

Sniffing too hard can essentially blind the nasal receptors so this should done carefully. Similarly, the glass is only swirled beforehand to admire the legs and should be avoided during nosing as it will release a greater alcohol bloom.

Afterwards, a small quantity of Eau-de-Vie is sipped and is only allowed a short amount of time to rest on the tongue. Likewise, swirling across the palate is brief before the liquid is swallowed. Otherwise, the Eau-de-Vie may temporarily burn the taste buds and kill your ability to sense the flavour.

During the finish, more flavours can be experienced through retro-olfaction as vapours are released through the nose. This phenomenon, which is similar to retrohaling when smoking cigars, heightens the experience by stimulate the nasal receptors.

Popular Eau-de-Vie Cocktail Recipes

Slivovitz Plum Brandy by Michael W

Eastern European Slivovitz – Michael W. May, CC 2.0

While Eau-de-Vie is traditionally consumed as a digestif, it has also been subject of the ever-growing demand for new and exciting cocktails. Below are a few examples of the best ones we tried.

Lemon Eau-de-Vie Punch

Simply add sugar lemon juice and sparkling water to a pitcher with an Eau-de-Vie of your choice. Feel free to throw in some mint leaves for an extra mojito vibe! Any of the most common Eaux-de-Vie varieties work well but we’re quite fond of using Mirabelle here.

Pernelle

A refreshing cocktail for the summer developed by Colin Asare-Appiah in 2007, it’s named after an alchemist’s wife.

Shake equal parts Vodka, Elderflower Liqueur, Poire Williams Eau-de-Vie, and lemon juice then strain into a glass of crushed ice. Afterwards, top with soda and garnish with a twist of lemon and a sprig of Rosemary.

Pear Slice

Not strictly a cocktail but more of a serving suggestion, a popular way to drink a Poire Williams Eau-de-Vie in summer is chilled with a slice of pear in the glass. The pear beautifully absorbs the spirit and produces a rich fruity flavour. Feel free to add ice and a twist of lemon for a refreshing experience.

Old-Jamaican Ginger Pear

A great alternative to a Moscow Mule, simply mix Poire Williams Eau-de-Vie with lime juice, fiery ginger beer, and a small dash of Chartreuse over ice. You can add a few slices of lime to the glass as garnish.

What Are The Benefits Of Drinking Eau-de-Vie?

As explained earlier, Eau-de-Vie was developed by monks as a possible elixir of life. However, as you may have guessed, it didn’t quite yield the intended results! Naturally, the product was stilled used for many generations as a remedy but likely provided little medicinal benefits aside from being an effective antiseptic.

Meanwhile, jenever, akvavit, and gin were actually quite effective with a number of ailments thanks to the botanicals used in their production. You can learn more about each of them with our dedicated guides linked in the previous sentence.

Gluten, Carbs, & Calories In Eau-de-Vie

As Eau-de-Vie is made entirely from fruit and not from grain, it contains no gluten as is completely safe to drink if you’re sensitive to the protein.

Furthermore, a 20 ml shot of Eau-de-Vie will contain no more than 45 calories with no presence of carbs as is the case with the majority of clear spirits.

Where To Buy Eau-de-Vie

Needless to say, traditional French Eau-de-Vie is something of a niche drink outside of Europe. As a result, it can be challenging to find abroad and especially in the USA. Nevertheless, distilling fruit to make brandy is a very popular practice that crosses many borders.

Indeed, it was one of the easiest ways to produce alcohol and many immigrants who colonised the American continent took their knowledge with them. Therefore, fruity brandy has always been relatively easy to find in the USA.

Today, a number of distilleries have been producing French-style Eau-de-Vie and you’ll see a few examples below. Nevertheless, even these may be challenging to find in most liquor stores.

Therefore, we’re proponents of buying our liquor online. One of our favourite destinations is Drizly. As they work in partnership with local liquor stores, they have a rich selection of Eau-de-Vie that can be delivered within an hour of ordering.

Otherwise, we’re big fans of Reserve Bar. However, it doesn’t appear that they have started stocking Eau-de-Vie just yet.

Pricing: How Much Does Eau-de-Vie Cost?

It may come as no surprise that domestic Eau-de-Vie will often be cheaper than imported ones. For instance, most American Eau-de-Vie will cost around $35 for 75 cl in the USA whereas French varieties will likely be around $65.

Nevertheless, the value of Eau-de-Vie can greatly vary depending on the brand, its production values, and its reputation. For instance, cheaper Eau-de-Vie in France can cost as little as 20€ to 30€. However, prestigious creations from historical houses may cost upwards of 100€!

Top 10 Best Eau-de-Vie Brands

As mentioned above, we will now cover the top 10 best Eau-de-Vie brands and varieties that you can buy online:

  1. Massenez Poire-Williams [France]
  2. Massenez Wild Raspberry [France]
  3. Strykover Luxury Slivovitz [Poland]
  4. Wolfberger Fleur De Biere [France]
  5. R. Jelinek Pear Williams [Czech Republic]
  6. Fidelitas Williams Birne [Germany]
  7. St. George Pear Brandy [USA]
  8. Purkhart Pear Williams [Austria]
  9. Clear Creek Pear In The Bottle [USA]
  10. Wolfberger Litchi [France]

Scroll down to see them all or jump ahead using the links above.

1. Massenez Poire-Williams [France]

Massenez Poire Williams Eau de Vie
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Massenez has been an Alsatian family distillery since 1870. Their Eau-de-Vie has been celebrated by royalty across Europe and is often served at the Élysée Palace by French presidents. Today, Massenez is an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival and is enjoyed by a variety of celebrities.

Their Williams Pear Eau-de-Vie received gold medals at the Concours Mondial des Spiritueux in Canada in both 2011 and 2012. A wonderfully balanced and refined concoction, it is an emblematic specimen of this variety.

"A crisp and tart Eau-de-Vie with a rich yet harmonious crescendo of flavour."
Bespoke Unit Rating: ★★★★★

2. Massenez Wild Raspberry [France]

Massenez Wild Raspberry Eau de Vie
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This is probably Massenez’s most famous Eau-de-Vie, which was introduced in 1913. It was made particularly famous as it was a favourite of the Queen of Sweden who drink it for her health. If you’re looking to try a unique Eau-de-Vie, you will enjoy its delicate palate and crisp fruity aromas.

3. Strykover Luxury Slivovitz [Poland]

Strykover Luxury Slivovitz
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Although not strictly an Eau-de-Vie in the sense that it was made outside of France and Germany, Eastern European Slivovitz is remarkably similar. In fact, it is essentially a Quetsche Eau-de-Vie as it is made using Damson plums.

Strykover is a certified Kosher brand, which won the Monde Selection Gold Medal in 2012. It also has great historical importance for the Polish Jewish community. According to the Strykover, a Szydłowiec Tzadik once said in 1942 that the Slivovitz had been a gift of God for the Jewish nation.

4. Wolfberger Fleur De Bière [France]

Wolfberger Fleur de Bière Eau de Vie
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Founded in 1902 by Alsatian winegrowers, Wolfberger is one of France’s most famous historical cooperatives. Today, 450 independent producers work together in harmony under the Wolfberger name.

Their Fleur de Bière was produced by a collective of passionate master distillers who sought to recreate a lost secret recipe. Produced from a brew of hops with an infusion of spices and citrus, it offers a rich exotic and oriental flavour.

5. R. Jelinek Pear Williams [Czech Republic]

R. Jelinek Pear Williams Brandy
  • Country of Origin: Czech Republic
  • Distillery: Rudolf Jelinek Distillery
  • Region: Vizovice, Czechia
  • Age: N/A
  • Casking: N/A
  • ABV: 42%
  • Pricing:
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Founded in 1894, Rudolf Jelínek is a celebrated distiller in the Czech Republic. As a historical producer of Slivovitz, the house crafts a number of local spirits. Furthermore, they also produce an excellent Williams Pear brandy that is an Eau-de-Vie in every respect bar the name.

6. Fidelitas Williams Birne [Germany]

Fidelitas Williams Birne
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As the distillery name suggests, Kammer-Kirsch is best known for producing authentic Kirschwasser from the Black Forest. After all, it’s a key ingredient in the eponymous cake! The distillery has been in operation since 1923 and they also own their affordable Fidelitas line.

Through Fidelitas, they produce a range of celebrated Obstler Schnaps and Eau-de-Vie including this excellent Williams Birne, which offers an excellent balanced flavour given its reasonable price.

7. St. George Pear Brandy [USA]

St George Pear Brandy
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Founded by Jorg Rupf in 1982, St George Spirits has been often regarded as a trailblazer of the craft distilling trend that we’re experiencing today. In 1996, Jorg Rupf approached Lance Winters, a brewer and former nuclear scientist.

After a year, they began producing their own single malt whiskey and went on to launch the only commercially available American absinthe less than a decade later. However, St George is also well-known for its first project, which are authentic European Eaux-de-Vie.

8. Purkhart Pear Williams [Austria]

Purkhart Pear Williams
  • Country of Origin: Austria
  • Distillery: Distillerie Purkhart
  • Region: Aich, Styria
  • Age: N/A
  • Casking: N/A
  • ABV: 40%
  • Pricing:
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A family business that has spanned three generations since 1932, it is operated by Bernhard Purkhart today. Purkhart only uses only Williams pears from South Tirol (also known as Alto Adige or Südtirol), which are prized for their rich and creamy fruit aromas.

A lively and opulent experience on the palate, this Eau-de-Vie offers a sensual depth from the opening well into the finish.

9. Clear Creek Eau de Vie de Poire [USA]

Clear Creek Pear In A Bottle Brandy
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Clear Creek was founded in 1985 by Stephen McCarthy whose family owned orchards since the turn of the century. When first launching his distillery, McCarthy travelled to Alsace to learn how to produce Eau-de-Vie and applied the methodology using local Bartlett pears.

Today, Clear Creek is probably the best known distillery for producing European Eau-de-Vie in the USA. This particularly Eau-de-Vie is the limited edition version, which features a genuine poire prisonnière, which explains the premium price.

10. Wolfberger Litchi [France]

Wolfberger Litchi
  • Country of Origin: France
  • Distillery: Wolfberger Distillery
  • Region: Eguisheim, Alcase
  • Age: N/A
  • Casking: N/A
  • ABV: 21%
  • Pricing:
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Another specimen from Wolfberger, we wanted to include this one simply because it shows the rich variety of Eaux-de-Vie on the market. Made from lychee, it’s an interesting alternative and offers a sweet, exotic flavour rather than the crisp tartness usually experienced with Williams or raspberry.

What Next?

Now that you have learned all about Eau-de-Vie, why don’t you check out some of our related spirit guides?

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