I am in Hungary right now and something is going on here. Something that has everything to do with distilling in general and with making Palinka in special. But what is going on? It is time to dive in deeper.
Palinka is fruit brandy made in Hungary. Pretty much any fruit that can be fermented is used to make Palinka and that has been the case for centuries. It started in monasteries, around the fourteenth century, but soon after every village had its own small distillery.
During communism, Palinka making was centralized. Only a few big, state owned distillers remained, with commercial quality drinks as their goal. Bulk production, low quality. Homemade Palinka persisted as an agricultural tradition, but quality was often … well below mediocre.
But that has changed rapidly over the last few years. Homedistilling is legalized, micro distilleries are started up in allmost every Hungarian city, and people are remembering their great Palinka history.
Quality is the main goal again and it pays off. Hungarian brandies are winning gold medals all around the world. The center of brandy making seems to shift from Austria and southern Germany to Hungary. Why and how? Because the Hungarian distillers have access to the best fruit. And because they marry tradition with modernity. Bubble cap trays and even copper mesh packed columns replace old style, inefficient alambic stills. Better reflux management, as well as heads and tails compression enable a new generation of distillers to grasp the essence of the fruit they work with, without the hangover causing volatiles being present.
I tried four Palinkas yesterday, all made by micro distilleries, and was amazed by the quality. Tomorow, i will meet with a Hungarian homedistiller, a former master distiller at a big distillery, to find out more.