Hungary is a landlocked country that is located in Central-Eastern Europe and is the proud home to many ancient heritage sites. The capital city of Hungary is Budapest and it is bisected by the famous Danube River into two parts, Buda and Pest. Budapest is the main attraction of tourism in all of Europe and is visited by millions of eager tourists each year.
One of the main attractions of Hungary is its deeply rooted culture and its festive local traditions that include Hungarian food and exquisite drinks as well. Palinka is one of the many traditional fascinations of Hungary and is a premium alcoholic beverage with its roots deeply set in Hungary. Many tourists enjoy tasting Palinka when they visit the country and often take a bottle or two back home with themselves as well. This is especially popular amongst the locals but also attracts many visitors to the country as well.
Pálinka is essentially a traditional fruit brandy in Central-Eastern Europe with its origins in Carpathian Basin that is known under several names and was invented during the Middle Ages. This drink has been protected as a geographical indication of the European Union and only the unique and rich blend of fruit spirits mashed, distilled, matured, and bottled in Hungary, and similar apricot spirits from four provinces of Austria can be called “pálinka”. On the other hand, “Tótpálinka” is basically a wheat-derived beverage. Törkölypálinka is a different product in the legal sense and is a similarly protected pomace brandy that is most commonly included with pálinka. Pálinka is generally made of any locally grown fruit; nevertheless, the most common fruits that are used in its preparation include plums, apricots, apples, pears, and cherries as well.
The taste of Palinka is quite unique. It can be described in the sense that to the gentle palate of a white wine drinker palinka would taste a bit like a slap in the face rubbing alcohol with a hint of apricot, plum or whatever fruit it has been prepared with. Since this drink is prepared with half-pure alcohol or sometimes even more, hence it would probably be best to consume it far from an open flame to avoid any unwanted hazards.
Palinka is more than just a drink in Hungary. The history of this Hungarian drink shows that Palinka is, in fact, politics. In the year 2010, Viktor Orban who was the autocratic prime minister had championed a law that allowed citizens to distill 50 liters which amount to about 13 gallons of their own Palinka without any tax, so long as they were to use approved equipment and did not sell it or give it away.
The very first records of Palinka date back to the 14th century. Back then it was referred to as “Aqua vitae reginae Hungariae” which can be translated to the English language as “the aqua vitae of the King Charles of Hungary”. This spirit that was first introduced was most probably a brandy that was blended with rosemary and was then used as a medicine for the king and the queen, both of whom suffered from arthritis. It was a drink that peasants made in their backyard for centuries, however during the 17th century an official act had put an end to all of that and then later on 2002 Palinka was made to be officially recognized by the EU as a Hungaricum which is basically an alcoholic drink, distilled from fruits and having an alcohol content of a minimum of around 37.5%.
Later on, it had been considered to be a drink of the ‘townsfolk’ or working-class people for a very long time. However, about ten to fifteen years ago it had started to become more and more popular among the rather “hip and trendy” crowd of Europe that would be hanging out in the majorly popular ruin bars. Today, there is not a single bar in all of Hungary that does not sell it.
There is plenty of Palinka that is being made in and around the great city of Budapest. If you are wondering as to “how Palinka is made” then here is a brief overview of the process but make sure that you do not try this at home! The process is first started off by gathering the fruits of choice to be used, for a liter of plum or apricot Palinka about 9-10 kilos of fruit will be required. However, if you prefer the berry flavors then roughly 45kgs of the fruit is required. The next step would be that the fruit then goes into a barrel along with some sugar. In the case of some fruits, like apples, water is also added to the mixture. Once this is done the barrel is then closed and left for about four to seven weeks while making sure that the liquid is regularly stirred daily.
After some time the fruit will eventually go to the bottom of the barrel. As a result, nice and clear “fruit wine” will be left. The liquid is then poured into a distilling pot to slowly heat at a low temperature. The distilling pot is connected through piping to another pot, that is, then used to cool the liquid. The liquor drips out of the ‘cooling’ pot very slowly, while some poisonous chemicals dissolve in the steam of the apparatus.
Although Palinka is a specialty mainly of the Hungarian countryside it can go upscale. One of the many different varieties of the famous drink that is commonly on sale at the Budapest airport is the half-liter bottle of Matheus kosher plum Palinka that is sold for around $45 which is a price that is more expensive than a nearby bottle of Johnnie Walker Black.
It is best to serve and consume Palinka at room temperature in a tulip-shaped shot glass. This is because room temperature maintains the blend flavors of the fruits. Hungarian cuisine tends to be on the heavy side so it is preferred to have a shot of Palinka prior to a meal and then to close the meal off with another one!