Making pálinka started centuries ago, it has a long history and is an important tradition that is part of Hungary’s culture.
Pálinka is traditionally made from plums, cherries, grapes, pears, apples and peaches but can actually be made out of any kind of fruit that grows in Hungary. Pálinka is Hungary’s most popular alcoholic drink, aside from some great wines that are also unique to the country.
Its first mention in literature was in 1630 when it was derived from the Slovakian word “palenka”, which means distilled fruits, cereals and wine—at the same time. The first fruity pálinka was actually “born” in Hungary in 1658. In fact, archaeologists found several types of equipment that proved making pálinka was a separate industry in Hungary at the time. The word “pálinka” became part of the Hungarian language during this time as well.
Interestingly, “burnt-wine”(another term used for pálinka back then) bottles were found in Hungary and their age dates back to the 13th century. These bottles were found to be of Italian origin. In the next century, doctors in Hungary also became familiar with this “medicinal drink” because pálinka was used as a medicine for different maladies at that time. King Charles I, also known as Charles Robert (Hungarian: Károly Róbert) was also familiar with an alcoholic beverage that was very similar to pálinka. His wife, Queen Elisabeth suffered from arthritis and doctors used a rosemary-infused wine distillate to treat her illness. This drink was called “Aqua vitae reginae Hungariae”, which means in Latin: the “Hungarian Queens’ water of life”.
By the 19th century there were over one thousand distilleries in Hungary which produced pálinka both for Hungary as well as for export to other neighboring countries. During World War II, stricter laws and rules were enacted which set new standards for the manufacture of pálinka. Starting in 1990, Hungarian pálinka manufacturing facilities were renovated due to outdated equipment and a shortage of ingredients necessary for production.