The Overlooked Drinker: An afternoon of Eau de Vie at ‘Art of the Cocktail’

Who would go to a conference on a Monday at 3 p.m. in the Chateau Victoria entitled “Eau de Vie: The Overlooked Cocktail Ingredient?” Actually, not very many people. Four, to be exact. But four seasoned brandy enthusiasts with genuine curiosity in the distilling and fermenting processes of alcohol, that is. Who probably shouldn’t attend this conference? Someone who thinks putting vodka in canned limeade is considered a cocktail and who has an important meeting later the same day. I guess we can’t all have good judgment.

Luckily, experts Rodney Goodchild and Tyler Dyck, representatives from Okanagan Spirits, know enough about true Eau de Vie to make bad judgment worthwhile. Eau de Vie, fruit brandy produced by a process of fermentation followed by double distillation, was once developed as a cure for cholera and Black Death. True Eau de Vie has no added sugar, unlike most brandies or liqueurs served in 95 per cent of bars in North America.

Okanagan Spirits, with distilleries in Vernon and Kelowna, use alembic copper-pot stills to produce 27different types of alcohol. They also receive essential help from local sources.

“We don’t grow any of our own fruit. We call up Joe Farmer or Suzy Farmer and get their fruit,” says Dyke, who stresses that relationships with local craft allows for more creativity in the product. The surplus is so great that Okanagan farmers encourage employees of Okanagan Spirits to bring home slightly damaged fruit that can’t sell.

Eau de Vie isn’t limited to fruit though. Anything that rots or ferments can be made into Eau de Vie, such as artichoke and garlic, though the yield is so low it’s hardly worth the process. A litre of Eau de Vie requires 20 to 30 pounds of fruit, about 24 pears per bottle.

In addition to four medicine-sized shots of pear, apple, apricot and peach brandies, we are given two cocktails: a Pear Sidecar made with pear brandy and triple sec, and an Okanagan Rose with Canados and grenadine. The Pear Sidecar tasted sweet but not too sweet, with a full pear taste, while the Okanagan Rose tasted more mellow and citrusy. I was able to keep up with my fellow brandy testers, but I did not make my meeting.

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