The Hungarian Drink: Pálinka

On my first morning Budapest, my walking tour guide gave us a general rundown of Hungarian history and when she got to food and drink she talked about Pálinka, a fruit brandy that is generally 30%-70% proof and hails originally from Hungary’s Carpathian Basin. In more American terms, it’s fruity Hungarian moonshine. I made a mental note to try this at some point during my time in Budapest and my first opportunity presented itself that night when I went on the Ruin Bar Crawl.

After casually getting to know one another at Ellátó kert, we moved on to ELLÁTÓház and were presented with our first shots of Pálinka. When I smelled it, it was fruity and when I shot it back it went down smoothly. It honestly didn’t taste like it was 70% proof (Mark, our guide, told us this was a spot that had the real stuff, so it was definitely 70% proof, or close to it).

Pálinka is traditionally made by putting fruit at the bottom of a barrel with sugar and water, closing the barrel, and waiting four to seven weeks until the water turns into “fruit wine.” Once that’s done the fruit wine is distilled at a low temperature and slowly the Pálinka drips out into a second barrel.

There are lots of politics surrounding Pálinka, too. It was illegal for independent Hungarian citizens to make their own at home until 2010 when the then-prime minister declared it legal as long as they didn’t sell it or give it away. The EU has had a few issues with this new ruling so there’s been a lot of back and forth (you can read more about that here).

I only did one shot that night and that was more than enough for me. Lest we forget that I had to get myself home at the end of the pub crawl. At the end of my trip, I picked up a tiny bottle at the airport when I was trying to use up the rest of my Forint.

If you’re traveling to Budapest soon, make sure to stop into the 7th district and imbibe in some Pálinka at one of the Ruin Bars.

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