During my last visit to Vienna a friend asked me if I wanted to arrange a spirits tasting with a relatively new distiller in the city, but my diary was completely full. As recompense we tasted through part of the Invivo range when we visited him and his wife for dinner, and I brought back a few bottles to try at home.
Vienna, as everyone knows, is partly surrounded by beautiful vineyards, and if you have been paying attention to me over the past five years or so, you will know that she makes some pretty special wines. Vienna actually possesses more agricultural land within the city limits than any other European Capital, and it is the fruit and vegetables from these farms and orchards, and other produce from the hills and mountains of Lower Austria, that Invivo utilises for its rather remarkable distillates, made in the city’s 18th District, northwest of the centre.
How good are Invivo’s products? Well, the press has been particularly full of praise. Falstaff’s spirits supplement recently gave quite a lot of their spirits scores in the nineties, with the gentiano brandy scoring 97 points. Even more interesting was the success of the paprika brandy, which won “Most Extraordinary Product” at Prowein Messe, Düsseldorf, in 2016.
The key to the quality of the Invivo spirits, aside of course from the quality of the locally grown fruit and veg, is the distillation process. Invivo uses a fairly rare vacuum still, which boils at a much lower temperature than most types of still. This gentler process means that fewer fruit and vegetable aromas decompose, and certainly the first thing you notice about these products is how intense is their bouquet. In one case, perhaps too intense, but we’ll come to that.
We will begin with my favourite of all the Invivo drinks, Donauweibchen Gin. Its name derives from the daughters of the Mermaid King who live beneath the Danube, echoes of the Rhine Maiden legend there.
The Gin is percolated and vacuum distilled. Percolation is fairly unusual with gin, because it’s a lot slower and more expensive than using a mash. In fact, it takes a week to produce fifty litres of spirit. Percolation, through a large stone funnel, leaves behind the bitter oils and tannins in the botanicals.
The main botanicals used here are juniper berries (grown in a dry climate, they have great intensity so the juniper flavour here is quite strong), orange peel and rose hips.
This is probably a good time to mention another very attractive aspect of Invivo, the packaging. As the photos will show, great attention has been paid to the labels (the plain fruit brandy labels in the photos are sample bottles). The gin label was designed by American graphic artist Tony Millionaire. Tony is known for his sea creatures and other nautical themes, and it’s not difficult to see what he’s representing here. The label also intentionally has the feel and atmosphere of the Viennese Jugenstil.
This is an amazing quality small batch gin for €40, very pure and elegant.
Whiskey may not be something you think about within an Austrian context, but Invivo’s founder and distiller Aco Nejemcevic decided to give it a go, the first release being in 2016. All the ingredients are sourced in Lower Austria, and after a double-vacuum distillation it is cask aged for three years.
As a young whiskey it’s fairly light, though not too light. This allows its purity to shine through. It’s not a peaty drink, of course, but it is a touch smoky, and certainly its 40% alcohol is obvious. With an ice cube it begins to flourish. I’d view it as an aperitif whiskey, rather than as a late night digestif, where its purity and lightness shine through. Very enjoyable, and a nice change. Very different to a commercial blended whisk(e)y.
Fruit and Vegetable Spirits
Fruit brandies are pretty well known in Austria, vegetable distillates perhaps less so. Invivo produces a wide range. I counted at least sixteen (doubtless more) fruit spirits, ranging from cherry and plum to barrel-aged apple and a couple made from grape marc (Gewurztraminer and Muscat). There are three vegetable brandies (paprika, cucumber and spinach), plus brandies made from beer and hazelnuts.
My favourite fruit brandies were probably the Zwetschkenbrand (damson) and Mirabellanbrand (mirabelle plum), although I’ll admit I’ve always had a thing for plum schnapps since my student days. Both of these have such an elegant scent, which is a counterpoint to the strong clean spirit on the palate. I also recommend the cherry brandy (Kirsch) and the brandies made from Port, and from Muscat skins.
I would particularly like to try the apricot brandy, because the nearby Wachau is one of the two best places in Europe for apricot cultivation.
The vegetable spirits in particular came out of over production by local farmers. By purchasing at a good price, Invivo helped the farmers avoid lower prices and/or waste, and the relationship has since flourished.
Of the vegetable brandies the clear standout was Paprika, the one which won the Prowein Award. The smell of bell pepper is so strong, but it is both spicy and savoury, a bit of a revelation. To make three litres of this brandy takes 100kg of peppers.
Cucumber is very interesting. The vegetable itself is refreshing but not particularly intense, whereas the distilled cucumber is the opposite. The spirit is lovely, but the intensity of the bouquet is startling. It doesn’t smell confected, in fact it smells very pure, but I have never smelt such strong essence of cucumber, and it was a bit of an assault on the senses. It also took some rinsing to remove the smell from the glasses.
One suggestion on the Invivo web site is to use a dash as a mixer, which may be acknowledgement of its intensity. I’m going to try a small dash in a gin & tonic when the warm weather returns.
The cucumber intensity aside, I’d strongly suggest trying these unique vegetable products because the quality is astonishingly high. As far as I’m aware, Invivo’s Viennese spirits don’t (sadly) have any UK distribution, but if you are in Vienna be sure to seek them out. There is a store locator on the Invivo web site. If they were available here in England, I’d be one of the first customers.
Invivo Spirits are available online via invivospirits.com . I’d like to thank my friend Dr Gregory Weeks for introducing me to Invivo and sharing so many bottles with me, which led to a rather pleasant, if late, evening. Looking forward to the next time, Greg!