Hungarian Palinka in Budapest

Ice Bar in Budapest

Recently I have had the great fortune of visiting, what has to be, one of the greatest cities in the world: the beautiful and bustling Budapest. I could rattle off a list of excellent experiences from my time over there, but as this is the Edinburgh Whisky Blog and not the Edinburgh Travel With Graeme Blog, I shall endeavour to keep focus on an alcohol based substance! This is something that Hungary has an abundance of and whilst I was there I tried some cracking beers, good wines and the national spirit; palinka.

What is palinka? I hear you ask! Well, as I said, it is a Hungarian spirit guarded by so many rules, regulations and regional differences that it can give Scotch whisky a run for its money. Now, as far as my limited knowledge goes: Palinka is a distilled fruit based spirit above 37.5% ABV and completely produced in Hungary. It has pretty much the same production as any traditionl fruit brandy and similar to that of whisky. First up is choosing the highest quality fresh fruit to create the mash (some common fruits are pear, grapes, cherry, apple and apricot), soften them up and remove any seeds/stones from them. Then comes the fermentation, which will occur naturally over 10-15 days. Next is of course distillation, palinka is twice distilled in a pot still or single distillation in a column still. Finally, it is aged in wooden casks but usually not for too long as it can detract from the flavour of some of the fruits. From what I can gauge, anything from 3 months to two years is common for palinka.

Of course, I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject and if anyone knows better feel free to comment below. As well as local beers and wines in the pubs and bars, palinka is usually available in most. The bars over there are awesome, particularly the ruin bars splattered with graffiti, random household items as furniture, the occasional cinema and all scattered around a maze-like derelict building. With my former Scotch Whisky Experience colleague Marc Dixon acting as a local guide, I was lucky enough to find some good spots for drinking. I first tried palinka in the Ice Bar Budapest (as typical Scot’s do when confronted with sweltering heat outside, we ran into a freezer to grab a drink) which served us some fine palinka cocktails in an ice glass. Very tasty, fresh and fruity and it encouraged me to try some of the spirit by itself. So, I grabbed a couple of bottles to take home and have decided to review them for you. I have one made from pear, one from apricot and another from yellow muscatel grapes. Without further ado, cheers! Or as they say in Hungary – Egészségedre!

Bestillo Boldogkőváralja region
Tokaj muscat lunel grapes palinka
40% ABV

Nose: Very fresh and not to sharp. Unsurprisingly, being made from grapes, it resonates of grappa. A little sweeter with vanilla and licorice backing a delicate poached pear and grapiness.

Taste: First sip made me stammer a bit. Quite bitter and a little shock to the system. Round two goes down much, much smoother and in fact it has some lovely qualities to it. The smoothness helps to exaggerate a pronounced citrus note, not unlike lime cordial with a kick. Smooth, bitter and zesty.

Finish: Not much to be fair. A slight biscuity note and a soapy zesty note like fairy liquid. I Personally don’t know what fairy liquid tastes like but I am sure Jason has so I will get him to confirm!

Marton es Lanyai
Hungarian apricot palinka
40% ABV

Nose: Softer than the first one. It’s like a Muller peach and apricot corner with a sharp tinge.

Taste: Again the first sip is quite sharp and bitter. Dried apricots and honey. Greek yoghurt. Seems a lot tamer than you would expect from 40% ABV.

Finish: Not much at all. A soft sweet feel.

Marton es Lanyai
Williams pear palinka
40% ABV

Nose:  Lacking the oomph of the first two. Again reminiscent of Grappa but with hints of  sweet pear.

Taste: Easy going. Lighter and sweeter than the first two. Candied pear sprinkled with sherbet. Grappa notes present along with a slight zest.

Finish: More than the others, the sweet pear notes lingering on the tip and the fresh pear teasing an appearance at the back of the palate.

Overall I would recommend trying this stuff. Not to strong and with the variety of different fruits available there is bound to be one that suits you. I personally would prefer a bit more bang for my buck, but serve after dinner or over some sorbet and this is some very refreshing and tasty spirit. Drink in Budapest for best experience!

Graeme Gardiner

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