A funny Hungarian greeting is “Pálinkás jó reggelt!” which means “Good morning with pálinka!”. But please, do not you think Hungarians start the day with a shotdrink. Pálinka is one of Hungary’s finest alcoholic beverages, cooked already from the middle ages. The first records of this Hungarian spirit date back to the fourteenth century, and refer as “Aqua vitae reginae Hungariae”. ‘The Water of Life’ – as medicine for all – was mentioned int he first Herbariums as well. This spirit, which was probably more, like a brandy blended with rosemary, was used as medicine too.
The word pálinka derives from the Slavonic word “páliť”, which means „to burn”. In Hungarian the word is most probably of Slovak origin. This word firstly was used in Hungary to refer to alcoholic drinks derived from wheat. The word pálinka became widespread in Hungary in the seventeenth century, but it still referred to distillates made from grain. The meaning was later transferred to fruit brandies, while wheat distillates were referred to as “crematura”. The distillation became a privilege of the landlords, but law forbade the use of bread-stuffs for distillation, hence the use of fruits. Private distilleries and factories started to appear towards the end of the eighteenth century, which led to legislation and to the introduction of a Pálinka tax.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]In 2004 the European Union accepted pálinka as a Hungarian speciality, and hence its production is limited to Hungary. According to the „Pálinka Law” any spirit labelled like this must be made exclusively from fruits, herbs or pomace indigenous to the Carpathian Basin, must be free of additional ingredients or additives – like f.g. sugar -, must be grown, mashed, distilled, matured and bottled in Hungary, and finally its alcohol content must be beween between 37.5% and 86% . 86%! Wow!
To use a special method for distillation is also a prescription. The good pálinka is not a mass product of huge factories. The selection of the fruit, the lengthy preparation, the careful distillation and treatment can only be carried out in small quantities, and in easily inspected, family-based manufactories. The first step is the preparation of the fruit mash, when the stony seeds are removed from the fruits. After that comes the fermentation of 10-15 days at a temperature of 14-16 C. The third – main important – step is the distillation. The traditional way of distillation is considered to make it in a pot still (“kisüsti” pálinka refers to a pálinka distilled in a pot still no bigger than 1000 litres). Pálinka distilled in a pot still is always double distilled. Distillation in a column involves a single distillation. The last step in the process is aging. The good pálinka is aged in wooden casks (made of, e.g., mulberry wood), but not all varieties of pálinka can be aged in wooden casks, because the wood can cancel the fruity taste of the drink. Those spirits are aged in metal tanks.
A popular saying in Hungary says: „ what can be used to prepare a jam, can also be used to distill pálinka.” Indeed, pálinka can be made from a large variety of fruits, and distilled from most of the fruits available in Hungary. The most used fruits are apricots, pears and plums, but sour cherries, apples, mulberries and quince are also distilled. Nevertheless, pálinka made from chestnuts is also available. Pálinka made of pomace (törkölypálinka) is very popular as well, and is a typical drink in the wine producing regions of the country. An unusual way of presenting pear palinka is when the bottle contains a whole fruit inside. The tiny immature fruit and its branch are threaded into the bottle, and the pear matures there to a point where it is much larger than the bottle opening. Nowadays pálinka is produced in this way from all kind of fruits too.
Considered as an aperitive, people drink pálinka before meal. Pálinka is best consumed at 18-20 °C because it is the temperature, when the fine smell and taste of the fruits can be enyojed the best. The ideal shaped glass to drink pálinka is like a tulip, wide at the bottom and narrow at the rim. relatively narrow neck of the glass leads to the nose the smell released on the relatively big surface at the bottom of the glass, and so it magnifies the smell of the drink.