The technology of fermentation to brew alcoholic drinks was not at all unknown even in the ancient times. Alcoholic beverages represent a significant part in almost every nation’s cultural heritage and gastronomy and this is not a coincidence. To prove that alcohol has always been part of human traditions, it is enough to think about and play with the word ‘spirit’. Spirit is a multi-meaning word. On the one hand, it means a ghost-like figure of a deceased person. On the other hand, the word ‘spirit’ means ‘alcoholic drink’ usually of a strong kind.
Following this line of thought, one can come to an unusual but completely understandable conclusion. Take shamans for example. Shamans use certain narcotics, including narcotic drinks to summon ‘the great spirits’ of great ancestors to ask for their help and guidance. This is only one example but it clearly shows that alcohol as such has an integral part in human history as a means to achieve a ‘modified state of mind’ and to see ‘what the eyes cannot see’.
In order to understand what palinka is and how it became such a popular and widely consumed drink in Hungary and all around the word, it is important to learn about its history and the steps of development this unique spirit had to undertake to achieve the place where palinka is today.
Interestingly, for many centuries the most dominant and market-governing alcohol brewing and production in Hungary was wine production. Hungary was and still is rich in agricultural territories that are famously good for wine cultivation; these are the so called ‘wine regions’. The quality of wine and the grape itself in these regions highly depend on climate factors and also the composition and quality of the soil.
Fortunately, wine regions in Hungary are still fertile and consequently Hungarian wine became world-famous. But palinka came later, which is interesting knowing the fact how popular drink it is today. Palinka or ‘firewater’ as it is often called – referring to its strong and dominant taste – had a long way to go before achieving worldwide popularity but this unique drink managed to preserve its originality and well-known taste that has always characterized it and that nobody can forget who once tasted it.
Palinka production in Hungary began in the middle of the 18th century. From this time on, records can be found that can be used as reference for palinka production and how this distillation industry has evolved. According to records, from the late 1800’s the number of distilleries and factories have grown and their products occupied a significant segment on the domestic market.
Consequently, as the production began to grow, certain rules and laws were needed to regulate production and to control the market. These regulations were about how palinka should be made and that palinka can only be made of fruit and how many litres an individual can produce. These rules and laws were important and played a huge role in preserving palinka’s originality and quality. However, interestingly, in the past decades, palinka began to lose its popularity, the distilleries began to decrease in number now palinka is ready to achieve world-wide fame again.