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What is Eau de Vie?

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Every now and then, TTB approves another eau de vie. This leads to wondering if it’s the same as brandy. At long last, Tim Patterson has explained how they differ:

Unlike grape brandy, eau de vie puts the emphasis on freshness, liveliness, and capturing the intense essence of fruit — rather than on depth, weight, and the complexity that comes from years of interaction between spirit, oxygen and wood.

By way of example, here is Peak Spirits Peach Eau de Vie. And here is Clear Creek Plum Eau de Vie. Patterson explains further:

In the market for distilled spirits, dominated by slick, multi-million-dollar ad campaigns for super-premium vodkas and single malts, eau de vie is nearly invisible. If there’s something smaller than a niche market, eau de vie has it sewn up.

Yet for those who seek it out, and are persistent enough to find it, great eau de vie can be an exquisite experience.

The name translates as “water of life,” a reminder that the invention of distillation in the 17th century came in pursuit of cures for plagues like cholera.

Put another way, eau de vie is the anti-vodka. The point of vodka distillation is to remove all those annoying flavors; the point of eau de vie is to preserve as much of the original fruit as possible.

The economics of production provide an equally stark contrast. [Vodka] can be made from almost any source … for a cost of less than fifty cents a bottle. A quality eau de vie consumes about 30 pounds of first-rate fruit, picked at the moment of peak ripeness.

I have quoted extensively from Patterson’s excellent article, and still it contains much other compelling information, such as the fact that both of the leading producers of American eau de vie happen to be lawyers. TTB does not seem to recognize eau de vie as a distinct category; the above examples are classified as brandy and have the term “brandy” on the label alongside “eau de vie.”

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Real or Fake?

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Would anyone expect this to be a big seller in the US? In Macedonia? It’s not clear why it ought to be considered “diluted,” since it meets the 80 proof threshold required for regular brandy. For the answer, click the label.

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Pine Liqueur, Pine Beer, Fir Brandy

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Here we present several members of the pine family. Above is Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir. It is made in Portland, Oregon. Clear Creek explains how it’s made:

Inspired by an obscure Alsatian distillate called Eau de Vie de Bourgeons de Sapin, Steve McCarthy worked on developing the perfect Oregon version of a tree spirit, an Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir, for ten years. This eau de vie is made from an infusion of the springtime buds of Douglas fir picked by hand into clear brandy which is then re-distilled and re-infused with more buds. Finally it is strained and bottled. The green color and complex fresh flavor are from the Douglas Fir buds. No artificial colors or flavors are added.

Mandrin, by contrast, is a malt beverage made in France, and “brewed with Pine Needles.” A third example is Zirbenz, the Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps. The Zirbenz website has a lot of surprising information about the stone pine — the “Agave of the Alps”:

the Arolla Stone Pine can withstand temperature extremes down to minus 40 Celsius. … the tree may take over thirty years before producing fruit, and thereafter has a harvest cycle of five to seven years. In the interest of conservation and future harvests, only 10-20% of each tree’s fruit is picked, and by law only in Steiermark and Carinthia.

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Obama: Where the Line is Drawn

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We wrote about President Obama’s appearance, on a beer label, many weeks ago. So we were going to leave the above label alone. But the Hennessy label has received surprisingly little press attention, and a reader reminded us about it. The Hennessy label provides a vivid illustration of where the line is drawn, in the matter of Obama-alcohol-beverage-labeling, and how to do it right and wrong. Hennessy got it right, apparently, by avoiding any direct reference to Mr. Obama (by way of name or likeness). They went right up to the line but did not cross it.

By contrast, as to the beer, Jill Jaracz wrote in to say:

Amid all the hoopla over the Presidential Inauguration, the TTB has officially nixed the idea of putting President Obama’s name and likeness on beverage labels by denying Ommegang Brewery’s application for a single-batch ale called Obamagang that they planned to release around Inauguration Day. TTB denied this label because they do not allow commercial use of someone’s name or likeness without that person’s permission.

In order to comply with the law, the Cooperstown, NY-based Ommegang chose to rename their product Ale 2009, and the new approved keg label depicts that the beer was created in honor of the Inauguration. However, Ommegang’s website still flaunts the ruling a bit by referring to the beer’s intended name “Obamagang,” and featuring the original images.

Brooklyn, NYC’s Sixpoint Craft Ales had registered the name Hop Obama Ale a few months ago, but the status of this label is now surrendered.

The Washington Post mentioned Sixpoint’s label problem here, and Bill Dowd at The Examiner covered it here.

The Hennessy ad is kind of hard to read and says: “In honor of the 44th President, Hennessy will make a donation to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for every Limited Edition bottle purchased. Each one is a unique and individually numbered piece of history.” TTB helped ensure it would be a limited edition by allowing the 44 label for 6 months and 15,000 cases only.

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No Shortage of Sins

Wine and brandy don’t seem especially sinful to us. But that apparently doesn’t stop lots of companies from portraying these products as evil or sinful. TTB approves about 100,000 alcohol beverage products per year, year in and year out, and a large percentage of these come equipped with references to sin, the devil, skulls and crossbones, and illegality. The Cognac above gets right to the point, branding itself illegal. And here is the original sin (apple wine).

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