Odd Spirits: Pálinka

If you know what Pálinka is, chances are you’re probably Hungarian.

Pálinka in it’s most general terms is a type of fruit brandy, distilled from a variety of fruits grown mainly on the Great Hungarian Plains. It’s not for the faint of heart, as it has often been described as Hungarian moonshine thanks to it being incredibly strong and intense. You can however find Pálinka in a variety of flavors, including apricot, pear, plum and cherry.

Pálinka has a long history in Hungary, dating back more than 500 years. Originally considered more as a medicine than a drink, it was believed Pálinka was a good digestive. It gained international recognition not that long ago when Edward, Prince of Wales, became a fan of the drink following a 1936 visit to Hungary. To date, every time a member of the British Royal Family visits Hungary, they are gifted a bottle of apricot Pálinka.

Only Pálinka produced and bottled in Hungary with a minimum alcohol content of 37.5 percent, made 100% from fruits grown in Hungary and indigenous to the Carpathian Basin can be considered authentic. There are even festivals dedicated to the drink. The Budapest Pálinka and Sausage Festival is held on Castle Hill in October. Meanwhile, the Budapest Pálinka Festival is held in May in City Hall Park where visitors can taste over 300 different types.

It’s generally been difficult to find Pálinka outside of Hungary, but in recent years there have been a few distributors that have managed to make it more accessible to drinkers in other countries. The LCBO carries one pear version, but you are paying a premium for a drink that is fairly common. Your best bet is to travel to Hungary to try it out in its native land, there you’ll find a very passionate community of Pálinka makers and drinkers who will be more than happy to extol the virtues of this spirit.

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