"EAUX DE VIE" From Léon Beyer



Fruit is the single raw material of French eaux de vie and its selection determines quality. The aroma, flavour and delicacy of great eaux de vie depend heavily on the fruit and the distiller's know-how is of upmost importance at this stage in order to select the best fruit. Fruit with stones or pips are then placed in tanks for fermentation while berries must macerate in alcohol.

As soon as they arrive, carefully selected stone fruits and williams pears are placed in wall-glassed tanks. Compressed under their own weight, the fruits soon form a sweety paste. Under the action of natural yeast contained in various species, fermentation begins after two days. The paste is then covered with froth and becomes tumultuous.

Most of the sugar from the fruits is transformed into alcohol in under ten days. Fermentation then slows down and finally stops after six weeks. This essential step is carefully controled by the distiller who supervises it using his own experience and "knack". The tanks are then hermetically sealed until distillation.

Raspberries and wild berries have a very low sugar content and fermentation alone would produce practically no alcohol. They must therefore macerate in eau de vie for at least one month. Every 100 kg of fruits must macerate in 25 liters of eau de vie with an alcohol content of 50 % as laid down by legislation. Slight fermentation takes place during this period.
The mixture is then distilled.

Distillation takes place in a single operation by means highly traditional processes in copper stills heated in a double boiler comprising two walls between which steam circulates and constant temperature.

Experience and hability are then essential to separate the distilled collected in three sections : the heads, the heart and the tail.

Only the clear limpid distilling heart, with an alcohol content of around 50 to 60 %, is kept while the imperfect heads and tails are eliminated.

There's a saying which goes "Eaux de vie must be put in the attic". This is a very old habit to age eau de vie in demi-johns closed with a piece of fabric and stored under the tiles roofs of vast attics. The considerable temperature variations they undergo favours the evaporation of undesirable products such as negative ester. The neutrality of the glass allows to completely preserve the purity of the flavour and to keep the eaux de vie white, clear and ardent.

Eaux de vie can also age in ash casks. Thanks to ageing, they lose their original harshness and become softer and more full-bodied. The period of ageing is left to the appreciation of the distiller who can extend it at will over several years.  

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