Across the lake, through a gap in the hills the white peaks of the French Alps steals your attention from the misty beauty of Lake Geneva. Visit a European city and the guide tells you about cathedrals (we saw one this time), natural history museums, parks, memorials, bars, restaurants and other assorted tick boxes. As beautiful as they are, we’ve seen a lot of churches on our travels and might have to give them a miss on our next European trip.
While I might be done with the buildings we do have the religious devotees to thank for something I am interested in: the booze. Most places you visit will have, or had a local distilled aqua vitae or fermented beverage made from whatever was available: barley, fruit, potatoes, whey, whatever. The earliest written records of Scotch date back to 1494, there references to Cognac dating back to the 3rd century, and this is where I bring you to the good bit of this holiday slideshow.
Wherever I am I try to drink local: Australia I drank Australian, Germany I drank German, Italy: Italian. You get the point. And Switzerland I drank, well, German and Spanish – even a waitresses expression when we asked for a glass of red wine suggested we steer clear of the Swiss. However, the aforementioned aqua vitae, you will come across a version of this in many, many places – my esteemed acquaintance BKR at Lunch Quest made a killer martini from Danish Akavit.
Just to ensure that my drink local batting average stays up, as we departed beautiful Geneva I grabbed a bottle of Swiss plum brandy – Etter Vielle Prune made from Swiss Löhr plums, “The Etter family has vouched for the quality of its products since 1870.” (Get a bunch of plums, mash them all up, add sugar, yeast and water, let it ferment for a while, then distil it and age. Hey presto, plum brandy). According to their website they use 8kg of plums for every 70cl, and only plums that have fallen naturally from the tree when extremely ripe.
My tastebuds are admittedly novices in the realms of plum brandy, but as a spirit it’s really quite good. The nose has the stewey sweetness of dried fruit and a wee bit of marzipan about it. It’s super soft, at 41% there is almost no burn on the nose, just sweet fruit with a slightly spicy edge. What I love about a spirit is that you get other stuff in there like dried strawberries, mulling spices and you can still taste the base spirit without it ripping your face off.
After a while you can start to smell the oak (3-5 years apparently) but only just.
The palate is sweet but tempered by a grappa-esque edge that stops it being sickly. It’s over an hour since my last sip and the flavours still pleasantly linger, and more than a wee bit moreish.
Over the years I’ve tasted some holiday horror shows that should never have been bottled much less pass the lips of our least civilised chums of the animal kingdom, but despite an initial reservation I actually really like this.
According to Etter: “Our Vieille Prune is an ideal after-dinner drink around an open fire. While enjoying a really strong Havana cigar such as a Bolivar Robusto, it’s easy to find a few glassfuls missing from the bottle! Or a glass of Vieille Prune with a slice of fresh plum tart, straight from the oven and topped with almond flakes and cinnamon… delicious!”
Well okay, if you insist…