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Since 2004, the Pálinka name is protected by European Union Law

,which states that only these special fruit spirits from Hungary could bear the name "pálinka". Since then, pálinka has officially become a Hungarikum. Under the law, only fruit spirits, and spirits distilled from grape marc, which have been produced in Hungary using a specific process, the raw material of which has been grown in Hungary and the mashing, distilling, maturing and bottling of which have been carried out in Hungary, may be called Pálinka.

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Pálinka is a traditional strong fruit spirit, with origins in Hungary, that was invented in the Middle Ages. While completely new to the United States, pálinka is traditionally made and fermented already since the middle ages. It is free of any additional ingredients.

The first records of the Hungarian spirit pálinka date back to the year 1330. The use of wheat in making spirits was banned and in 1459 by King Matthias who condemned the peasantry for “daring to use grain to produce this burnt wine during a famine.”

The terminology that is used to label this spirit has undergone changes through the centuries as well. The first mention of the word “balenka”— as a derivative of the proto-Slovakian “palenka”— dates back to 1572. At that time it was more common to refer to fruit distillate as burnt wine. It was during the 19th century that Pálinka became more formally entwined with Hungarian folk culture.

By the 18th century distillers and alcohol production were under the control of the church which continued until the start of the 19th century when larger production of distillates, pálinka and other liqueurs, started. By 1850, pálinka production was a state monopoly. During the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th pálinka transitioned from being a peasant drink of the common man to the liquor cabinets of wealthy consumers in the Austro-Hungarian empire. As a result, pálinka factories exploded on the spirit-making scene during this time. Prince Edward of Wales (who was famously forced to relinquish the British throne) is reported to have raved about peach pálinka during his visit to Budapest just prior to the start of World War II and its use in the so-called puszta cocktail.

  • People drinking palinka in Hungary in the late 19th century
  • Man in liquor store in Hungary in 1970s
  • 3 women in Hungary drinking palinka in the 1960s
  • Man in park in Hungary in early 1900s

In the communist era, pálinka production became severely threatened by the harsh controls and regulations placed on the state-run economy. Very few individuals and companies were given a license to continue production. Because of this, however, home distillation rarely ceased, despite the threat of arrest, and pálinka became a symbol of resistance for many who fiercely resented the Soviet intrusion into Hungary.

Various laws were introduced throughout the years restricting production culminating with the splitting of production between private distilleries and the state being 50-50 between 1952 and 1970.

Since the fall of communism in the early 1990s commercial pálinka has bounced back to life. In fact, Pálinka is so quintessentially Hungarian that it is now protected as a geographical product by the European Union and in 2008 the drink was finally formalized by the Pálinka Act.

Picnickers drinking Hungarian pálinka
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Men and women drinking Hungarian pálinka

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