I have always loved the French word for fruit brandy, eau de vie, which literally means “water of life.” The name has such a prosaic feeling that it almost makes you forget how powerful the brandy is at 45% alcohol (or 90 proof). The distillation process that creates the alcohol level also allows for an almost unbelievable concentration of fruit flavors. In the hands of the best eau de vie producers, this makes for exquisite spirits.
On a recent wine tasting trip to Alsace with friends, I had the pleasure of experiencing a range of eau de vies from one of the top artisanal eau de vie producers in the region. At the end of a long day of tasting, we were driving in the rain and fog into Ribeauville in the heart of Alsace wine country, when a small tasting room promising eau de vies appeared like a beacon out of the gloom.
It turned out to be a treasure trove, as we had stumbled upon Distillerie Windholtz, a family owned business for over 80 years. We were fortunate to be served by the still spry octogenarian Marcel Windholtz, son of the founder. Today, Marcel’s son Michel produces over 30 different eau de vies, as well as some fruit liqueurs. As the fragrances and flavors are so intense, we could only taste a fraction without overwhelming our palates.
All that I tasted were excellent but the Framboise Sauvage (wild raspberry) was a clear standout. The fragrance made me feel as though I were smelling the pure essence of raspberries in conifer woods with clear, crisp mountain air. The taste was an intense and direct raspberry flavor, stripped of everything else, so powerful and smooth that I barely registered the 45% alcohol level.
The logic of the French name “water of life” suddenly seemed obvious to me, as I felt I could drink the Framboise Sauvage forever. Alas, it is clearly a drink to consume in hedonistic moderation!