Eau de vie translates as "water of life" in French, and is a yet another reminder that the invention of distillation in the 17th century came out of medical pursuits against disease. Beginning in Central Europe, alchemists recognized the medicinal benefits of fruits and herbs. The perfect way to preserve these medicinal goods was to add alcohol for storage.
Over time, the infused alcohol had enough desirable traits to be praised in their own right, and early chemists began to distill the fruit they had been preserving directly. Other, more upbeat uses soon came to the fore, and eau de vie was established as a distinct class of spirits: clear fruit brandy, rarely touching wood, and usually drunk fairly young.
Today, eau de vie is the default term for all brandies that are made from fermenting fruit other than grapes. Unlike grape brandy, eau de vie puts the emphasis on freshness, liveliness, and capturing the intense essence of fruit - rather than on depth, weight, and the complexity that comes from years of interaction between spirit, oxygen and wood. The quality of the final spirit depends upon the quality and freshness of the initial fruit and the type of still used.