Glossary: E

Eau De Vie

French for ‘water of life’, Eau de Vie is a clear, colourless fruit brandy that is produced by means of fermentation and distillation. Typically, fruit is pressed to extract its juice, fermented with the help of yeast to create an alcoholic liquid, and then distilled it twice.

In English-speaking countries, it almost always refers to brandies made with fruit other than grapes. Confusingly however, because Eau-de-Vie is a term used in French to mean ‘spirit’ many Cognac producers refer to the distillates they blend together as being eau-de-vie. 

Eau-de-vie are historically significant to European drinking culture and are a huge part of the agricultural heritage of France, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. They were never solely considered just a tool to transform surplus fruit into alcohol, the goal of an eau-de-vie is to capture the essence of whatever it’s made from, with the best (often made from Pears, Apples, Raspberries, Cherries) commanding cult status and high price tags.

Esters

Esters are compounds that contribute to the flavour profile of spirits. Esters can create complex flavour profiles and can be detected at very low levels – even as low as in the parts per million. 

Many esters have distinctive odours that are specific to them. Acetic acid esters have the glue/pear smell familiar with Grappa. Lactic acid esters smell fruity (soft, mild, creamy) and are prominent in spirits like Scotch and Bourbon. Butyric acid esters smell fruity (tropical fruits, bubblegum) to create quintessential Rum flavours. As many occur naturally in the essential oils of plants, Gin is packed with them too.

Esters can also introduce flavours of ingredients that are not actually present in the distillation process (which is why you can have rum or whisky that smells like bananas, cloves, etc). The production of specific esters can be encouraged or discouraged by changing either the conditions and materials used in the fermenting, the process or apparatus used when distilling, and the aging processes.