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

Laird’s 10th Generation Apple Brandy
92 points
$39.99
Amber color. Elegant, fruity aromas and flavors of perfectly ripe red apples, cherry candies, toffee, buttery pastry, yuzu marmalade, and ripe melon with a satiny, crisp, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a peppery, intricate, long finish that presents nuances of sage, ground pepper, and ginger finish. Bright, sophisticated aromas beckon the imbiber in for a sip of this peppery apple brandy; great for complex for cocktails.
92 points $39.99
Laird’s Straight Applejack 86 Brandy
92 points
$25
Golden amber color. Aromas of heirloom apples, hibiscus, sweet cherry, and nougat with a round, vibrant, fruity medium body and a warming, involved, long honey on crepes and peach preserve finish. An upstanding apple brandy with layers of flavor that evolve on the palate.
Awards: 2018 Best Buy Bar - Best Value Fruit Brandy
Yebiga Bela Plum Brandy
87 points
$29
Clear color. Fruity aromas and flavors of ripe plum, white cherry, seville orange, hints of banana, and figs with a supple, crisp, dry light body and a sleek, interesting, medium-length finish. A light, fruity and fragrant Brandy that will make for accessible, fresh cocktails.
Yebiga Prva Plum Brandy
86 points
$39
Golden straw color. Aromas of butterscotch, sugar plum, hints of candied watermelon, heirloom apple, and white flowers with a satiny, crisp, dryish light body and a tingling, breezy fruit cake, marzipan, and peppercorns finish. A toasty and fruity Brandy that will make fun cocktails.
Star Union Spirits Apple Fruit Brandy
86 points
$60
Golden amber color. Aromas and flavors of apple cake, hints of maple buttercream, cherry preserves, and toasted cereal with a supple, crisp, dry light body and a tingling, brisk finish with overtones of pear tart. Toasty oak and orchard fruit mingle in this fun and mixable immature Fruit Brandy.
Star Union Spirits Cherry Fruit Brandy
86 points
$60
Pale gold color. Aromas and flavors of popcorn, green apple, hints of pumpkin spice cheesecake, and mint with a supple, bright, dry light body and a seamless, intriguing, breezy finish evoking notes of cracked pepper and baking spices. A delicate Fruit Brandy with hints of baking spices; an easy intro to barrel-aged spirits.
Black Dirt New York Apple Jack Brandy
85 points
$48
Golden amber color. Oaky aromas of sarsaparilla, peanut marzipan, spiced tea, sandalwood, and caramel apple with a velvety, crisp, dryish medium body and a polished, interesting, medium-length spumoni and caramel sauce finish. A heavily oaked Applejack to try in creative and tasty Wisconsin Old Fashioneds.