One of the presents I didn’t get at Christmas is in the photograph below. I am pleased not to get such a present as possessing it is unfortunately illegal, and if I was to receive such a present I would dispose of it quickly.
I am talking about homemade Eau de Vie or ‘Water of Life’ , the photo is of a small bottle of 10 year old Poire Eau de Vie, with age the drink takes on a golden hue, the taste mellows and becomes full, smooth and complex. Young Eau de Vie is as clear as water and has an assertive taste like pear drops, astringent, powerful and capable of animating a near corpse with a single gulp.
A little while ago my eldest son didn’t bring a bottle back from a teen drinks party that was so rough and ready that even a room of teenagers ‘going for it’ thought that discretion was the better part of valour and left the bottle well alone except for a small exploratory sip. If I had a bottle like that I would have tried in an act of bravado to drink and even enjoy the contents, but what would happen in reality is that after a spluttering glass it would be consigned to the back of the drinks cabinet where eventually my partner would use it as a degreaser for cleaning windows!
Allegedly the illegal production of various forms of Eau de Vie is quite common in rural France though I know nothing about it. People have been known to produce for family and friends a full range of Eau de Vie’s such as pear, apple, plum, and cherry and I have even heard of the production of Pastis a powerfully alcoholic aperitif from Provence. I have never tried such concoctions, but if I did I would drink with interest and with respect for the long tradition of home distilling.
The tradition of home distilling has strong routes in French rural society, until 1952, households had the right to distil the fruits of their own production, or wild plants from the countryside, tax-free up to a limit of ten litres (2.6 gallons) of pure alcohol. Travelling distillery would tour around rural communities so that local people had access to the specialist kit for a reasonable fee. Then the law changed: anyone who had distilled in 1952 or earlier retained the tax-free privilege; their heirs and all newcomers could still make their eau-de-vie, but were taxed from the first drop.
Oh well that’s progress I suppose but sometimes I think there’s something to be said for the old way of doing things.