How to Drink Pálinka?

Real pálinka is a magnificent and refined harmony of taste, color and fragrance—no matter what fruit is used to make it. 

While it used to be a common way to start the day, nowadays it is more associated with festive occasions and gatherings of family and friends. But the only way to drink good pálinka is to drink it well.

Palinka and plates of food
Bestillo Distillery
Bestillo palinka and jam
Pálinka does not like the cold

One of the most important rules is that the pálinka bottle should not be kept in the fridge or pantry, nor should the glasses be refrigerated. The ideal temperature for pálinka is room temperature, around 18-20°C. (65°F-68°F). Because chilled pálinka loses its most important enjoyment values, its characteristic nose and fruity flavor and aroma.

Send it down in one go?

No. Although it looks good in the movies when the shots are poured one after the other in a cool way, pálinka should not be poured all at once. It's best to take it slowly, sip by sip, to allow the delicious drink to wash over the entire mouth and release all its flavor and fruity taste. This is how quality pálinka can be truly enjoyed. Even after a few minutes of drinking, the empty glass releases a pleasant aromas and the characteristic fruit flavors.

The best glass for pálinka

A good glass provides a safe place to store pálinka, and a good pálinka glass allows you to serve it in a spectacular way and to enjoy the fullness of flavors, aromas and fragrances. The classic barefoot stampede is a thing of the past! For pálinka, a tulip glass is perfect. The shape of this glass, with a funnel at the bottom and tapering upwards, leads the aromas of the pálinka straight to the nose. Tilting the glass and rocking it slightly is a great way to release the aromas. (Just like with quality wines)

Pouring pálinka into tulip glass
A glass of Hungarian pálinka

When to drink pálinka?

The pálinka bottle can be kept on the table at any time throughout the day. It can be consumed before a meal as an aperitif or after a meal, as it is particularly good for digestion, especially after heavier, fatty foods. It is a traditional welcome drink, often served with a good glass of house pálinka to welcome visitors. There are occasions and celebrations where it is almost obligatory in Hungary to serve pálinka . One such occasion is a pig feast, when the work begun in the cold of the morning is accompanied by a heart-warming glass of pálinka. But during weddings, anniversaries, christenings and farewell parties, bottles of various fruit pálinkas are also a must.

It's an old custom to thank a child for his or her blessing with pálinka at birth, and to put away a few bottles to be opened much later at his or her the wedding. Of course, you don't have to wait for a special occasion, a family, friends or work gathering, a romantic get-together or just a chilly evening is also worthy of a toast with pálinka.

Tip: The intensity of the aromas can be further enhanced by covering the glass with a tulip glass lid.

Some other interesting facts about pálinka:
  • There are many different slang words in Hungary for pálinka such as neck oil, lazy bastard spit, witch fart or fence-snatcher.

  • In the 1900s Hungary pálinka was also referred to as the poor man's coffee.

  • The patron saint of pálinka is St Nicholas. Yes, Santa Claus!

  • The best way to serve pálinka is with a matching meal. Peach pálinka with cottage cheese and peach strudel, plum pálinka with plum cream soup.

  • The tulip glass should not be toasted in the traditional way, but tilted at 45 degrees with the funnelled part.

  • In addition to the usual pálinkas such as plum, peach, quince, pear, cherry, sour cherry, etc., spirits are also made from, for example, wild onion, poppy seed, beetroot, carrot or asparagus. These may not be labeled pálinka, because, due to the 2004 Pálinka Act, pálinka can only be made using Hungarian fruits. Interestingly, since biographically tomato is a fruit, spirits made out of tomato in Hungary may be called pálinka. 

The ideal temperature for drinking pálinka is between 60F°-65F°. Its robust flavor isn’t brought out fully at lower temperatures. When cooled or chilled it simply won’t deliver the full body and flavor of the fruit. Drinking it above 65 degrees is also not suggested due to the quick evaporation of the aroma at higher temperatures.  

Pálinka should never be served chilled or allowed to warm up too much in the drinker’s hand in order to deliver its full aroma and taste. 

The shape of the glass in which you drink pálinka should also be considered. The ideal pálinka glass is hollow at the bottom and tapers upward.  This is known as a  “tulip glass”.  Drinking from this glass allows the scent of the pálinka to be carried to the nose without the strong alcohol smell and amplifies the fruity flavor of the drink.  Tilting the glass a bit, and swirling it (similar to doing this with a glass of wine), allows the fruit aroma to be released for a richer taste and aromatic experience. 

Cheering with pálinka at a table
Tarpa Distillery

Due to the volatility of pálinka, to get the maximum aroma and taste of this great spirit, there should be little time between pouring the drink and consuming it. Despite the fact that pálinka typically ranges between 38% - 52% in alcohol by volume, those who drink pálinka notice not so much the alcohol, but rather the fruity taste and aroma from this delightful drink. 

Pálinka is not reserved for meals or simply as an after-dinner drink.  It can be consumed at any time of the day. Many Hungarians start their day with a drink of their favorite pálinka.  And sometimes entire meals are designed around a particular flavor of pálinka.

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