MADE IN FRANCE INTERNATIONAL: The French luxury magazine











by Jean-Pierre Jumez

In France, an average eight kilos of fruit are required to make just one liter of spirit. In certain countries 500 grams of fruit are considered about enough not counting all the sugar and artificial additives which are strictement interdits in France. French distillation standards are the toughest in the world, which means that exports sometimes suffer but that connoisseurs can be reassured On supermarket shelves throughout the world, French fruit based brandies and spirits (or eaux de vie) are consequently scarse and expensive.


Fortunately for the French drinks trade, monks in France have not always been as abstemious as they perhaps should have been and our monastic brethren have even played an important rote in the creation of new beverages, including champagne with Dom Perignon. The same goes for spirits. In the fourteenth century a monk in the East of France was looking for a cure for cholera and had the bright idea of burning the must from cherries. And so cherry brandy was spirited into being. In the eighteenth century the liquor was given the name "kirsch" (an Alsatian dialect world) and today "kirsch" is widely drunk in France and abroad as an after-dinner liqueur or in cocktails. It's also used for cooking. A minimum of eighteen kilos of cherries are needed to make one liter of liquor.


Very special old people

Fruit brandies soon caught on in France, especially in the East. Here, family traditions were so deeply rooted that certain farmers, until recently, enjoyed the much sought after privilege of being allowed to produce spirits on the farm without having to bother with the state license. In a moue to fight alcoholism, the French government wanted to abolish this hereditary right, creating an uproar not only in the familles concerned but also among connoisseurs who particularly appreciated these farm produced drinks on which so much time and effort had been spent. The new measures meant that many traditional "brewers" used very devious means to get round the law. The legislation prevented children from inheriting the right to make spirits but did not stop those who already had this right before the law was passed from continuing as before. This meant that families often didn't declare the death of a grandparent in order to carry on brewing under the deceased relative's name. Some grandfathers thus reached the ripe old age of one hundred and thirty, due entirely to the beneficial effects of eau-de-vie.
Another result of the legislation was that the French started to import foreign alcoholic drinks on a large scale. In the process, they became big whisky tipplers!

All kinds of fruit, all kinds of tastes

But to return to our subject, other fruits that regularly go into the making of French eaux de vie include plums, raspberries (11 kilos are needed per liter of liquor) and the Williams pear (one liter requires 28 kilos). More unusual fruits include elderberries, rose hips, sloes, rowan and holly berries. The therapeutic value of these fruits is often recognized by doctors.
Fermentation varies according to the sugar content of the fruit. The resulting liquor might be distilled twice, depending on the fruit, but the end product depends on the individual skills and taste buds of the distiller.
Aging takes place either in glass demi johns which keep the aroma intact or in barrels which give a mellower texture to the drink. An eau de vie should be drunk at a low temperature. 6° to 8°C, for example, is the ideal temperature for a pear based spirit.
Because of all the restrictions that surround them in eau de vie production in France as well as all the past secrecy surrounding private distilleries, eau de vie producers often have the impression of belonging to some kind of priesthood. In purely quantitative terms, French spirits are midgets compared to French wines. Now, though, about forty distillers have joined up to form the Fédération Nationale des Distillateurs d'Eaux de Vie de Fruits, which means that they are in a better position to make their products known abroad. 20% of total output is exported and discussions are under way in the European Community to harmonize standards. For the happy few who manage to get hold of some of this precious fluid, the very quintessence of their favorite fruit is captured in an eau-de-vie whose scarcity is no doubt part of the exquisite pleasure it procures.

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