Pálinka, Hungarian fruit brandy, is a strong alcoholic beverage revered for its punch, flavor, and fragrance. Pálinka can be purchased throughout Hungary, sampled at restaurants, or ordered online. Some people make their own pálinka, and festivals in Budapest and throughout Hungary celebrate one of Hungarians’ favorite gastronomical delights.
Though it’s easy to use pálinka to get drunk, pálinka makers themselves are not interested in producing a beverage that is only notable for its high percentage of alcohol.
Making pálinka has become an art in Hungary, much like the practice of making Hungarian wine, and many people who drink this fruit brandy enjoy it as a tasteful way to begin or end a meal.
True pálinka only comes from Hungary and is made with fruits native to and harvested from the fertile Carpathian Basin region of Europe. The drink’s history can be traced back hundreds of years, and it’s no doubt that ancestors of today’s Hungarians were plucking sun-ripened fruit from trees to ferment and distill it into a drink with impressive powers. Pálinka is strong, with an alcohol content between 37% and 86%. Authentic pálinka should allow the fruit to stand on its own merit without the addition of sugars, flavors, or coloring.
Pálinka is made with sweet orchard fruits such as plums, apricots, and cherries. Though it’s a potent alcoholic beverage, it is typically served at room temperature because part of the joy of drinking pálinka is its fragrance and flavor, both which can be dulled if the brandy is served too cold.
To enjoy the qualities of pálinka, the brandy is drunk out of a small, tulip-shaped glass, and the true pálinka lover may sip and savor the drink. It can be drunk before or after a meal, but some suggest enjoying it after a meal as a digestive.
Pálinka in Hungary
Palinka is so integral to Hungarian culture that it’s celebrated during festivals and ranked and rated at contests.
Some people even take pálinka-judging courses so they can assess the fruit brandy professionally. Pálinka judges are skilled at discerning how brandies in a competition differ from one another and which ones best others when flavor and fragrance are compared.
In Budapest, festivals that celebrate pálinka include the Pálinka and Sausage Festival in October and the Pálinka Festival in May. These festivals offer an excellent opportunity to sample a variety of brandies from makers originating from all over Hungary.
People in Hungary take pride in their fruit brandy. Some even consider it a part of a healthy lifestyle and use it for wellness or medicinal purposes.
Pálinka is made from harvest fruits, and in the past, making fruit brandy was a way to use up fruits that were not eaten at the end of the season. The fruits are collected and placed into a vessel or barrel then stirred to help the fermentation process happen. Fermentation takes place over the course of several weeks.
Then the fruit mash undergoes a distillation process. Though companies that make fruit brandy use large, modern distillers, some people make pálinka in their backyard with fire and a copper cauldron.
Once the pálinka goes through initial distillation, it is distilled again.
Types of Pálinka
Pálinka is often sold in tall or round elegantly shaped bottles to show off its clarity or color. Some popular types of fruit brandy include apricot (barack) palinka from Kecskemét, plum (szilva ) palinka from the Körös Valley, and apple (alma) palinka from the Szabolcs region of Hungary.
Palinka is also given special names depending upon how it is distilled. For example, palinka is distinguished by the volume of the batch and how long it has aged. Some palinka is sold with fruit in the bottle. Other fruit brandies are intended to be after-meal digestives and are made with the grape flesh leftover from pressing out the juice.