Pálinka is a type of fruit brandy, distilled from a variety of fruits grown mainly on the Great Hungarian Plains. It is a strong and intense alcoholic beverage and comes in a variety of flavors, including apricot (barack), pear (körte), plum (szilva) and cherry (cseresznye). Pálinka has a long history, dating back more than 500 years. Originally pálinka used to be considered more as a medicine than a drink, as it was believed to be a digestive.
Pálinka is best enjoyed at room temperature. 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. One of the best opportunities to sample pálinka is at one of the annual pálinka festivals. The Budapest Pálinka and Sausage Festival is held on Castle Hill in the fall (October). The Budapest Pálinka Festival is held in the spring (May) in City Hall Park where visitors can taste over 300 different type of pálinka.
One of the most famous Hungarian pálinkas is made from apricots and is widely known as fütyülős barack pálinka or whistling apricot brandy. This special pálinka was created in the middle of the 19th century when the phylloxera epidemic destroyed most of the vineyards and the pálinka made from apricots grown in the orchards around Kecskemét was used to supplement the lost production. It received its name after a special long-necked, whistle-shaped bottle that became widespread in Hungary during the Turkish occupation and was often used to store pálinka.
Fütyülős barack pálinka gained international reputation when Edward, Prince of Wales, who renounced the throne for love, became a life-long fan of the drink following a 1936 visit to Hungary. To date, every time a member of the British Royal Family visits Hungary, he or she is presented with a bottle of apricot pálinka. In the 1960s the famous Zwack family furthered the name of this Hungarian specialty with the release of their own version called Fütyülős Barackpálinka. Pálinka is an acquired taste and Zwack adjusted its marketing strategy to meet international demand by lowering the alcohol content and making flavored varieties of the famed pálinka. As a consequence of the changes in production, it can no longer be called pálinka and today, it's sold only as Fütyülős.
Many Hungarians still enjoy a shot of pálinka before and/or after a meal. Pálinka is available in stores and restaurants, so be sure to try it when visiting Hungary. Different brands of pálinka can be found in all major supermarkets in Hungary. A good place to sample authentic Hungarian pálinka is Rézangyal Bistro. Rézangyal offers a selection of over 100 authentic pálinkas in their own unique glasses accompanied by professional guidance. Bars, stores and festivals dedicated to pálinka are good signs that this unique Hungarian spirit is undergoing a renaissance.