Pálinka is a traditional fruit brandy in the Carpathian Basin, known under several names, and invented in the Middle Ages. Protected as a geographical indication of the European Union, only fruit spirits mashed, distilled, matured and bottled in Hungary and similar apricot spirits from four provinces of Austria can be called “pálinka“. Törkölypálinka, a different product in the legal sense, is a similarly protected pomace brandy that is commonly included with pálinka. While pálinka may be made of any locally grown fruit, the most common ones are plums, apricots, apples, pears, and cherries.
Similar products exist in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia known as Pálenka as well as in Romania under the name Pălincă.
The production of Hungarian pálinka is regulated by local law LXXIII of 2008, often referred to as “pálinka law”, which is based on the regulation of generic fruit spirits of the European Union. An alcoholic beverage may be called pálinka if:
- it is fermented exclusively from fruit (excluding concentrates and dried fruits) grown in Hungary, and free of additional ingredients, and
- it is grown, distilled and bottled in Hungary, and
- it is not rectified higher than 86% and is bottled with at least 37.5% ABV.
While pálinka is traditionally made from a mash of ripe fruit, the law does not control the addition of non-concentrated fruit juice, and explicitly allows the use of fruit pulp. Dried fruits are excluded from the mash only, and may be used in the aging process.
In 2004 the European Union accepted pálinka as a Hungarian speciality, and hence its production is limited to Hungary (and four provinces of Austria for pálinka made from apricots). This caused some confusion in neighboring countries, as some claimed that producers of fruit brandies would have to pay a royalty to Hungary. This is, however, not the case. It is the brand “pálinka” that is protected by Hungarian and EU law, hence producers outside of Hungary are not allowed to use the brand “pálinka” for their products, but they are free to produce fruit brandies and sell them under different names. This is in spite of the drink being historically distilled in most of the former Kingdom of Hungary, much of which falls outside present-day Hungary.
In Austria, four provinces are allowed to label local apricot spirits as Barack Palinka (transliteration of Hungarian barackpálinka): Burgenland, Lower Austria, Styria, and Vienna. Unlike Hungarian pálinka, its Austrian counterpart may not be made with column stills, and in order to achieve a full character, careful slow distillation is required by law.
Pálinka as a geographical indication (in other terms, a product with protected designation of origin or PDO) has been officially registered in the European Union since 2004.
While pálinka has PDO on its own, some regions of Hungary are especially suitable for the production of certain fruits, and pálinka of excellent quality has been produced in those regions for centuries. These local variations are protected as separate geographical indications, and have their own well-detailed regulations. In order to use these protected names on the label, strict geographical and technical requirements must be met. A product not meeting the special requirements of gönci barackpálinka (apricot pálinka of Gönc) for example, cannot be labeled as such, not even if it is otherwise a legitimate apricot pálinka from Gönc. In Hungary, only these local variations are referred to as pálinka with protected designations of origin.
Pálinkas with PDO include, szatmári szilvapálinka (plum pálinka of Szatmár), a kecskeméti barackpálinka (apricot pálinka of Kecskemét), szabolcsi almapálinka (apple pálinka ofSzabolcs), békési szilvapálinka (plum pálinka of Békés), gönci barackpálinka (apricot pálinka of Gönc), újfehértói meggypálinka (sour cherry pálinka of Újfehértó), göcseji körtepálinka(pear pálinka of Göcsej) and pannonhalmi törkölypálinka (pomace pálinka of Pannonhalma).