Conventions

The Tastes and Traditions of Pálinka



Like French champagne and gorgonzola cheese, Hungarian pálinka (fruit spirit) has the status of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). This means that it must be fermented exclusively from fruit grown in Hungary, not from concentrates, distilled and also bottled in Hungary. Fruit pulp is permitted, dried fruit in the ageing process.

Along with overarching regulations, within Hungary there are eight localities which specialise in a specific pálinka, and granted their own PDO: plum pálinka from Szatmár, apricot from Kecskemét, apple from Szabolcs, plum from Békés, apricot from Gönc, sour cherry from Újfehértó, pear from Göcsej and grape marc from Pannonhalma. At the historic abbey there, monks have been making wine and spirits for 1,000 years.

Apricot pálinka from Gönc

The range of fruit used and places where it is distilled, spread across Hungary from Göcsej in the west to Szatmár in the east, indicate the diverse, historic traditions of this revered spirit.


Under the Habsburgs and in the post-war régime, distillation was state-run. After 1989, a private industry developed, quality improved and pálinka became fashionable, with imaginative marketing campaigns and labelling. In Budapest, specialist bars sprang up. A full range of fruit brandies can be sampled at a pálinka museum on Király utca, where a history of the drink is also showcased.

 

Production techniques, though modernised, remain, in essence, traditional. First, the fruit is gathered, de-stoned, mashed and fermented over a fortnight or so. It is then distilled, twice in the case of pot stills, and aged in wooden or metal casks.


As well as by types of fruit, pálinka may be designated according to more precise methods of production – an ágyas pálinka has been aged together with the fruit for at least three months, a törkölypálinka is made from grape marc.

The quintessence of the fruit

Finally comes the most important stage: consumption. Pálinka should be served at room temperature, in a tulip-shaped glass, round at the bottom, narrow at the rim, so that the aromas may breathe. It is sipped and savoured, most certainly not slammed – and with a communal raising and clinking of glasses.

Plum pálinka from Szatmár