About Eaux de Vie.

After a rich and satisfying meal, central European gourmets savour an eaux-de-vie (literally meaning water of life). Alcohol in low concentrations helps break down low-density cholesterols and, in the stomach, breaks down fats, accelerating digestion. The accent here is on moderation. More than one or two eaux-de-vie after a meal along with wine would certainly be too much!

Central Europeans (French, Germans, Swiss, Austrians, Hungarians, Czechs, Poles and Slovenians) have been distilling fruits for centuries and mastered the process while refining constantly. Today you can find outstanding eaux-de-vie of cherries, pears, apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apricots and plums in many specialised European stores from many reputable distillers.

Fruit brandies are derived from perfectly ripe fruit that has been crushed, pressed, fermented and distilled. Alembic style copper stills are used to obtain best results.

Generally, depending on the harvest, 20-22 lbs of fruit is required to produce one litre of eaux de vie at approximately 40 per cent alcohol by volume.

Properly distilled eaux de vie are clear, smell of the base fruit, and possess an intense taste. They are always dry, smooth and well rounded to provide maximum satisfaction. Served in snifters to appreciate their distinct aroma and should be chilled but never iced. While some prefer to enjoy eaux de vie at ambient temperature, connoisseurs prefer theirs cool.

Hungarian Barack Palinka (Apricot brandy) is arguably the best of all and if you buy a bottle of Zwack you may not want to try any other! Barack palinka exudes perfumery apricot aromas that only can be obtained from properly ripened fruit. The distillation is an art that Hungarians seem to have been able to perfect, at least for apricot. The fruit, according to legend, originated in Armenia and to this day, this country still produces the best, but rather than distilling the fermented juice, Armenians dry it.

Austrians, Germans and Spaniards also produce some fine apricot brandies, but fall short to achieve the subtlety of Hungarian products. Kirsch (cherry) eau de vie is associated with the Germans, although the French, Spaniards, and north Italians also produce this heavenly distillate, it is always called by its German name.

In Switzerland people enjoy kirsch in their coffee, on its own, after a festive meal, and in cakes. Zuger Kirschtorte is a speciality and no self-respecting home-maker will dare present a fondue without a short of kirsch.

Poire Williams (pear brandy) are excellent and can be enjoyed on their own, in coffees, fruit salads, pastries, and even as a stomach settling medication after a particularly 'greasy' meal i.e. deep fried foods and/or cream rich pastries.