Pálinka is a traditional double distilled eau-de-vie produced mainly in Hungary,
Why making an extra article whereas fruit brandies already have a full dedicated page?
Because Palinka is ...
highly good and often overlooked!
Before we dive into this exciting spirit: this post is different than others. It has been proofread by Eszter Sipos, a Palinka expert from Hungary. Her notes are in italics followed by (es) and check that link to know more about her.
Thanks again Eszter!
WHERE IS IT FROM?
According to Hungarian and European legislation, it can only be produced from fruits grown in Hungary, as weel as brewing, distilling, maturing and bottling, they must take place in Hungary.
The country is divided into regions each with a specialty fruits.
Pálinka can be produced all over the country and some of the regions have specialties like kecskeméti barack pálinka: apricot pálinka from the town of Kecskemét, as it has sandy soil that warms up easily so apricot grows there well. (At the) border with Ukraine, that type of barackpálinka is called ‘Gönci barack’ from the area around the town of Gönc where the ascending warm breezes protect apricot trees at chilling nights on the small hills. (es)
CAN PALINKA BE MADE WITH ANYTHING?
In addition to the fact that fruits must come from Hungary and processed entirely in Hungary, the rules also demand that preserved (dried) fruits or concentrates must not be used.
Pálinka can be made from plums (szilva), apples (alma), pears (körte), apricots (barack), quince (birsalma and birskörte), apple (translation missing) or pear (translation missing) or cherries (cseresznye).
Today: The wild ones are very fashionable these days: elderberry, cornelian cherry, sloe, etc.(es)
Only some regions have fruits attached and is sold as specialty but other fruits are used at those regions as well, so you can make barackpálinka anywhere in Hungary
The border with Austria is not a specialty region of barackpálinka in Hungary, but the eastern border of Austria is accepted by the EU and Hungarian law as exception since 4 provinces in Austria are allowed to use the term barackpálinka for their apricot distillates.(es)
Another fact that many good quality palinka share are their high degree of alcohol (see below) as a sign of quality.
40% ABV is the usual degree of alcohol in pálinkas, even in the best quality ones, the tradition was to produce them with 50% ABV earlier but the consumers rarely are ready to pay its much higher price (duty is determined by ABV) (es)
Check the website of the assocation to deepen on the different fruits or ingredient used to make palinka. Moreover you'll find link to the best ones!
No added flavours (like honey), colour, sweetening can be added to Palinka.
However, during the production, distillers use enzymes, commercial yeast, clarifying agents, nutrients to aid fermentation, foaming inhibitor, so it's relevant to ask question before buying a bottle.
Good palinka producers succeed without chemical help.
Distillers may use enzymes, etc. and almost everybody uses everything you listed, it’s the secret of the pálinka distiller how they perform quality, the issue of chemical help depends much more on the region’s natural microbial character (p.e. favourable wild yeast on fruit skin) and the fruit cultivating technology (p. e. using fungicides kills wild yeast as well). (es)
IS THIS A VERY STRONG ALCOHOL ?
The alcohol content should be between 37.5% and 86%... yes, that's a big difference. In restaurants and bars, the palinka you drink has an alcohol content between 40 and 50% though. It is a strong alcohol to drink in small quantity, and for that reason only try the best of the categories!
IS THERE MANY CATEGORIES OR STYLES?
There are specialties, like “ágyas”, which are obtained with the maceration with the fruit or ópálinka (ó meaning old), which is aged for a longer time (one to two years).
The maceration is performed after distillation (not to confuse it with geists from Germany) (es)
There is also the so called “kisüstipálinka”, which designates a pálinka that has been distilled in a small pot still, at least two times and which usually produces “rougher” or more characterful products.
The text of the law says: ‘kisüstipálinka’ is distilled (or rectified) in amounts smaller than 1.000 L, and that ‘valódi kisüsti’ (meaning true small pot) requires double distillation in pot still smaller than 1.000 L (consequently, nearly all pálinkas are kisüsti)(es)
Check more categories on the blog by Kristian Kielmayer.
HOW CAN I BUY GOOD PALINKA?
First check the several yearly awards to make sure you're getting la crême de la crême, which you can find when you enter "palinka award" in your browser.
Here is an article found this way.
Of course, it worths checking the national Palinka assocation website. Not only you'll find a lot of information but also you'll be help to notice the best producers
The blog Liquorista lately (2017) reported on great and reliable palinka worth trying.
WHERE DO I FIND SERIOUS INFORMATION ABOUT PALINKA?
On the great website of the Palinka national association in Hungary. They especially have a great interactive map with styles and regions.
WHY IS PALINKA SO SPECIAL?