Josephine Water of Life

Josephine label with profile of Josephine Baker

Introduction

Eau-de-vie, French for Water of Life, is used in the spirits industry as a category for unaged non-grape brandy. Traditionally, an Eau-de-vie would showcase a single fruit, working to provide the essence of the fruit. Due to the volatile nature of fruit essence, this practice is often regarded as a benchmark for the distiller’s skill. Joséphine, as a water of life, challenges this benchmark with a few unique tricks, setting it apart from other brandy.

 

History of Eau-de-Vie

The origin and history of Eau-de-vie are shrouded in myth and legend, with stories coming from China, Egypt, Greece, and France. Yet, each iteration speaks of a clear, unsweetened fruit brandy called Eau-de-vie. These delicious spirits rank among the world’s best after-dinner drinks with vivid perfume and rich, pure, and explosive flavor, like biting into a perfectly ripe fruit.  

In contrast to liqueurs, which get their flavor from steeping, Eaux-de-vie obtains their flavor through careful distillation. Care is essential when making an Eau-de-vie as the flavors from fruit are more volatile and easily lost early in the distillation process. The precision and difficulty of Eau-de-vie distillation are why many distillers use it as a benchmark to gauge skill levels, as they must balance the amount of alcohol with the flavors of the spirit.

Who was Josephine?

Like Lorenz and René, Joséphine was named for legendary entertainer: Joséphine Baker. Joséphine was a prominent mixed-race entertainer in France around World War 2 who was also an Allied spy. She was born in the Southern U.S., where she also began her career as a burlesque dancer. Being an outspoken individual of her background, she was eventually chased from the South and later the States entirely. 

She landed in France, free of segregation, and her career rapidly took off, leading to her amassing a sizeable wealth which she used to buy a mansion where she hosted lavish parties. When WWII broke out, she used the mansion and wealth to host the Nazi brass with alcohol and some of her burlesque friends. These Nazi leaders, wanting to wow these pretty women, would start boasting. Their boasts soon became about Nazi plans, strategies, and secrets. Joséphine’s friends would report these boasts to her, which she would then relay to Allied generals. She remained undiscovered the entire war, with her efforts earning her the honor of being inducted into the French Pantheon, the first American and first black woman ever to receive this honor. We continue to honor her by donating a portion of proceeds from Joséphine sales to the International Child Art Foundation. 

Josephine Baker

Differences in Josephine

A few things set Joséphine apart from other Eaux-de-vie as most showcase a single fruit. First, Joséphine’s original concept came from asking, “How does a distilled sangria taste?” The answer to this question led to combining six fruits into the same batch for distillation.

  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Mango
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Peach

The distilled spirit was then blended with wine to complete the sangria taste. Testers received this initial iteration well, but the minds behind the recipe felt more was possible. As a result, fine molasses was added to the fruit mixture, creating rum-like undertones.

The oak-conditioning period is the final step that separates Joséphine from other Eau de vie. The spirit rests on toasted oak spirals, providing smokey notes and the signature amber color. The combination of fruits, molasses, and oak notes provides for broader possibilities with Joséphine that do not exist in the typical Eau-de-vie. These possibilities include rum, aged brandy, clear liquors, flavored liqueurs, and Cognac.

Spirit Substitutions

The complex nature of Joséphine is critical to substitutions. The varying fruits play forward depending on the chosen cocktail, allowing for fruity blends such as those in liqueurs and flavored vodkas. In contrast, the earthy notes bestowed by the oak-conditioning period bring a heartiness that underlines distinctive notes in bolder cocktails. Joséphine even shares a place amongst other Cognac substitutions, with the harmony of flavors working together towards a broader experience.

It may seem strange for any one spirit to be so versatile, but the experiences brought on by Joséphine are as varied as the number of cocktails it can complement. Whether replacing a core spirit or supporting a broader cocktail, Joséphine will surely delight. Bold and gentle can go hand-in-hand, as shown by this spirit and its namesake.

Conclusion

Whether you want to support children’s art through your favorite past-time or need a cognac alternative, Joséphine is an exceptional choice. The French orchards and vineyards stand out, even in cocktails, adding decadence and beauty to almost any drink. As with most brandy, allowing Joséphine to warm and breathe will change the prominent flavors, providing a changing experience for the patient and a new taste with each glass. Even in bold cocktails, Joséphine has something unique that will delight the senses and excite the palette. You only need to trust in the art of its work, just as you would have the art of Joséphine Baker. So grab yourself a bottle and tell us what art you will make with Joséphine.

Stephanie Eau Claire

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