Here is Freddie Mercury’s reaction to drinking pálinka.
Pálinka can be distilled from almost any fruit, but plum, peach, apricot, cherry, apple, grape, and pear are the most common varieties. A recent trend in Hungary is the distillation of more uncommon or expensive fruits such as raspberries, currants, blueberries, elderberries, and strawberries. Pálinkas blended with honey are becoming increasingly popular among those who simply cannot bear the burn.
I never cared much for pálinka when I was younger, but I have become quite partial to this fruit brandy since I moved to Hungary four years ago. Before proceeding allow me stress that I am an extremely light drinker, one who tends to limit his alcohol consumption to two or three drinks per week. Nonetheless, one of those two or three drinks inevitable ends up being a good shot of pálinka. Nothing, in my opinion or experience, takes the edge off a long day or warms the insides as thoroughly as pálinka does (save perhaps an excellent cognac, but that’s another subject entirely).
Pálinka making has a long tradition in Hungary and many Hungarians continue to distill their own. Producing one’s own pálinka is a matter of considerable pride in this country, and few things provide as much pleasure to the average Hungarian gentleman as being able to offer his friends or guests a sampling of his own handcrafted spirit. Quite a few men in my village distill their own pálinka; the ones I have been fortunate enough to sample thus far have been superb. I hope to distill my own next year.
If you enjoy a good stiff drink, keep your eyes open for Hungarian pálinka the next time you visit the shops or liquor store. The first shot will likely put you off, but don’t let it put you off entirely. Like many great things in life, pálinka is definitely an acquired taste, and it is, in my opinion, a taste well worth acquiring – in extreme moderation, of course!
If you do eventually acquire a taste for it, you will ultimately develop a sense of kinship with the people of this small, landlocked country. Unfortunately, the development of this kinship is extremely rare, as displayed by the reactions below.