About Eau de Vie and Fruit Brandies

Eau-de-vie ("water of life") is the default term in French for spirits in general, and specifically for colorless fruit brandy, particularly from regions of France, Germany and the US.

Normandy is one of the few regions in France that does not have a substantial grape wine industry. Instead it is apple country, with a long tradition of producing hard and sweet cider that in turn can be distilled into an Apple Brandy known as Calvados. The local cider apples, which tend to be small and tart, are closer in type to crab apples than to modern table apples. This spirit has its own appellations, with the best brands coming from Appellation Controlee Pays dAuge near the Atlantic seaport of Deauville, and the rest in 10 adjacent regions that are designated Appellation Reglementee. Most Pays dAuge and some of the better Appellation Reglementee are produced in pot stills. All varieties of Calvados are aged in oak casks for a minimum of two years. Cognac-style quality and age terms such as V.S.O.P. and Hors dAge are frequently used on labels, but have no legal meaning. In the United States, Applejack, as Apple Brandy is called locally, is thought by many to be the first spirit produced in the British colonies. This colonial tradition has continued on the East Coast with the Lairds Distillery in New Jersey (established in 1780 and the oldest distillery in America). Apple Brandies that are more like eau-de-vie are produced in California and Oregon.

The fruit-growing regions of the upper Rhine River are the prime eau-de-vie production areas of Europe. The Black Forest region of Baden in Germany, and Alsace in France, are known for their Cherry Brandies (Kirsch in France, Kirschwasser in Germany), Raspberry Brandies (Framboise and Himbeergeist), and Pear Brandies (Poire). Similar eaux-de-vies are now being produced in the United States in California and Oregon. Some Plum Brandy is also made in these regions (Mirabelle from France is an example), but the best known type of Plum Brandy is Slivovitz, which is made from the small blue Sljiva plum throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Top Picks for Eau de Vie and Fruit Brandies

Perea Apricot Brandy
93 points
$25
Best Buy
Clear color. Confected aromas of butterscotch, apple, wildberry candies, strawberry shortcake, and mixed berry pie filling with a round, crisp, fruity light body and an effortless, delightful, medium-long blackberry fruit roll-up, chocolate taffy, agave, and dried apricot finish. Electric waves of intense fruits are packed into this flavor-trip of an eau de vie; a very fun spirit to mix in cocktails or sip neat to celebrate.
Awards: 2018 Best Fruit Brandy
93 points $25 Best Buy
Long Road Distillers Cherry Brandy
93 points
$34.99
Clear color. Fruity aromas and flavors of bright spiced dried cherries, fruit gum, and cherry blossoms with a satiny, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a tingling, interesting, medium-long sweet cream, powdered sugar, cherry pits, and straw finish. A very pure cherry brandy with a solid core of fruit and pleasing warmth.
93 points $34.99
Pere Magloire VSOP Calvados
91 points
$39.99
Golden amber color. Yeasty aromas of heirloom apples, sultana studded yeasty brioche, dandelion blossom, Forelle pear, plum vinegar, and honey on French toast with a satiny, vibrant, fruity medium body and a peppery, nuanced, medium-long bananas in custard, smoked Manchego, butterscotch pudding, flaky lemon curd Danish, mango rind, and walnut finish. A rustic, charming Calvados with a huge spectrum of flavors.
91 points $39.99
Boulard Calvados VSOP
91 points
$49.99
Brilliant copper color. Fruity, pure aromas of juicy red apples, fine tea, roasted walnuts, cinnamon-butterscotch, and leather with a velvety, lively, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a warming, interesting, medium-length creme anglaise atop warm apple compote, mixed peppercorns, pepperoncini, and tobacco ash finish. A fresh, dry Calvados for after-dinner sipping.
91 points $49.99
Laird’s Straight Applejack 86
90 points
$29.99
Amber color. Pure, fruity aromas and flavors of ripe autumn apples, red anjou pear, almond tart, and coconut shell with a satiny, vibrant, dry-yet-fruity medium body and an interesting, medium-long vanilla creme Anglaise finish. A pure, shining example of applejack; beautiful and bright.
90 points $29.99
Solbeso "No. 1" Fresh Distilled Cacao
90 points
$40
Clear color. Delicate, interesting, attractive aromas of sesame nougat, cashew butter, and white chocolate raisins with a silky, vibrant, dryish light body and a tingling, long warm milk and honey, toasted exotic nuts, crispy chicken skin, and barnyard hay finish. A delightful creamy eau-de-vie with lots of tropical cocktail affinity.
Calvados Coquerel Calvados VSOP
89 points
$39.99
Light amber color. Aromas of roasted and dried apples, fig paste, delicate spiced nuts, and cedar pencil with a supple, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a warming, amusing, medium-long spiced apples and pear in creme Anglaise, mocha, and minerals finish. A rock solid Calvados for sipping or mixing.
89 points $39.99
Domaine Dupont Fine Reserve Calvados
88 points
$44
Golden straw color. Aromas of nougat, dried golden apple, chardonnay, fig Newton, and braised turnip with a satiny, bright, dry-yet-fruity light body and a warming, medium-length cinnamon and clove pastry and fennel seed finish. A youthful Calvados for cocktail play.
Boulard Calvados Pays dAuge XO
88 points
$89.99
Bronze color. Earthy aromas of bee pollen, alpine herbs, damp trees, and apple handpie with a silky, crisp, dryish light-to-medium body and a tingling, interesting, medium-length apple quickbread, gingerbread, and hazelnut creamer finish. A light and mysterious Calvados that might be a nice departure for single malt fans.
88 points $89.99
Calvados Coquerel Calvados Fine
88 points
$26.99
Gold color. Aromas and flavors of dried and spiced pear, caramelized nuts, and pepper with a soft, dryish light-to-medium body and a tingling, stimulating, breezy apples in cream, delicate spice, minerals, and oak finish. A pleasant, easy drinking Clavados with good versatility.
88 points $26.99