The first records of the Hungarian spirit pálinka date back to the year 1330.

The use of wheat in making spirits was banned 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. 

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

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.

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.

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