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History of the Pálinka

Beer-breewing was a well known custom in ancient Egypt, and so was winedrinking in ancient Rome, which means that the technology of fermenatation was used at this time. Distillation, the production of „spirits” was only one step forward. Who was the first to taste this narcotic drink, and where did it take place? Well, opinions may vary on these questions, but it is a fact that after a while not only wine, but also fermented fruit was distilled. While Europe become familiar with the distillation process in the 11th century, alcohol-production in Hungary included only wine-distillation and grain-spirit production. The history of „aqua vitae” attributed to queen Elizabeth, originates from the 14th century, „spirits” were regarded as medicine until the 16th century. The production of Pálinka (in the current sense) began in the middle of the 18th century, and the variety of the fruits used was expanding.

 


 

On 29 September 1850, a Pálinka-tax was introduced in Hungary, and from this year on we can talk about reliable records and data in the filed of Pálinak production.

 

Based on these data, in 1913 Hungary had 860 working alcohol factories, 30 of which were of industrial scale. That year Hungarian alcohol-production became acknowledged all over the world. The Alcohol Bill of 1921 imposed restrictions on production: in the following year only 240 000 hectoliters of domestic consumption was allowed by the state. Excess production was permitted only in case of foreign orders. In spite of this, however, in 1934 apricot Pálinka was referred to as a „world-famous Hungarian drink”.

 

 

The Act 30 of 1938 fundamentally changed the situation of Pálinka production in Hungary.From that time only the state could decide on “alcohol production, refinement, dehydration, importation and realization”. Laws in connection with Pálinka production did not change essentially until 1951.Later that related law started to handle Pálinka distilleries as solid wine- and fruit distilleries and for them the state placed a production framework; for the wine- and fruit producers it limited the quantity of fruit to be distilled. From 1952 the production of shots was introduced.

 

After 1980 the state abolished its alcohol-monopoly as the law decree no. 36 of 1982 stated: “…Individuals are also allowed to produce Pálinka from fruit.” Another regulation stated: “… Individuals are allowed to set up distilleries with maximum capacity of 500-litre pots, and alcohol-producing economic organizations can hire out or pass over to individuals by contract management.” The most significant change, however, was that after such a long time this activities required special expertise. At the time of the Hungarian political transition the number of registered distilleries has reduced from 1141 (1965) to 880 out of these 202 were the property of individuals. Due to insufficient technical equipment, lack of experts and the poor quality of raw materials it was impossible to produce high-quality Pálinka.Because of this, fruit-Pálinka has disappeared from the national and foreign markets. It was replaced by different alcoholic drink made from fine-spirit, water and essences with cold process, which was of sold as Pálinka. However, when this wonderful drink was just  about to disappear from the scene, some geniuses came out of nowhere, the ones who have been producing the top-quality Pálinka ever since. They fought for a long time to restore the old reputation of Pálinka and now we can dream about the world fame of our national pride again.

 

 

Types of pálinka

- Kisüsti (literally "Small pot, cauldron") is a double-distilled pálinka made in a copper pot not exceeding a volume of 1000 litres.

- Érlelt (Aged) is a pálinka aged for at least three months in a wooden cask smaller than 1000 litres, or for at least six months in a wooden cask of 1000 litres or above.

- Ó (Old) is a pálinka aged for at least 12 months in a wooden cask smaller than 1000 litres, or for at least 24 months in a wooden cask of 1000 litres or above.

- Ágyas ("bedded") is a pálinka aged for at least three months together with fruits. The fruits can be of the same sort used to obtain the distillate or of another sort. To 100 liters of pálinka at least 10 kg of ripe or 5 kg of dried fruits have to be added.

 

 

- Törköly (Pomace pálinka, also Törkölypálinka) is a pálinka made from grape pomace. One of the oldest types of pálinka; it helps digestion, and is usually consumed in small quantities after meals.

 

 

Resting and Maturation

 

Pálinka must be rested for at least three months. During that time the distillate "organizes itself," its original values do not change, but the drink will become more harmonious. During this time the internal balance of the distillate establishes its asperity and crudity resolves: it becomes clear and becomes “round”. Then the rested Pálinka might be bottled.

 

Pálinka is not just rested and matured for a standard time in wooden barrels with an adequate capacity. Matured Pálinka is different from rested Pálinka in all respects. First, it can be distinguished by its colour gained by the barrel and by the added values generated by maturation: the harmonious fragrance of flowers, the pleasantly soft, spicy and sweet fruity background.

 

The “Ágyas” Pálinka (pálinka with fruits embedded in it) is matured on a bed of fruits - which may be fresh or dried fruits -, while this the colour and the flavour of fruits eluted, and this causes a change in the Pálinka, its flavour becomes more characteristic because of the fruit-sugar.

 

Pálinka is part of Hungarian culture and one of the greatest values of Hungarian gastronomy. The key rule to proper Pálinka consumption is that is meant to be consumed at room temperature, between 18-20 degrees Celsius. Cooling of the Pálinka causes serious damage to the Pálinka and the consumer, as it looses the essence we drink it for: its scent and fruitiness. Do not listen to those who recommend cooled Pálinka! Pálinka is best enjoyed if tasted slowly, sipping. It is not quantity that matters, but quality and the feeling that surrounds Pálinka. Pálinka signifies pleasure, whether consumed during a friendly chat, before or after a festive dinner, as it is also a consummation to gastronomic delights. Pálinka may both be consumed before meals as aperitif or after meals as digestive.

 

Now only one word left before tasting a real Hungarian premium pálinka - Cheers, Egészségedre!

 

Resources:

-          Agrármarketing Centrum

-          Pálinka Nemzeti Tanács

-          Wikipédia

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