This might sound like a silly article, but I observed that a lot of people accidentally find my blog, searching for a recipe for this drink. A couple of months ago I wrote a rather simple article on the benefits of palinka, in comparison with energy drinks. For this reason, each day I see people clicking on my blog searching for a way to make this brew. Well this blog is a pretty opened one, so why not write an article about it, so I can satisfy your curiosity.
1. First of all what do you make it out of? Well I’m sorry but this is neither whisky nor vodka. We don’t use wheat or barley, or maybe potatoes like the Irish do. It has to be made out of fruits. You name it. The most common is made out of plums (prunes), but then again you can find a whole variety. Cherry, Pears, Apples, Apricots or just the mixture of all these. My granddad’s favorite is pear pálinka (körte pálinka).
2. Fermentation: Now, as in the case of every alcohol, the key factor is fermentation, but don’t forget; this is a distilled drink so the principles are somewhat different, than in the case of wine making.
Every autumn after the fruit harvest, a part of it (those that aren’t sold) are grinded up and put away in special recipients or barrels for fermentation. Don’t forget! Never fill them completely as during fermentation, the squashed fruits expand. And always put them in an open recipient. Plus don’t forget to stir the content of the recipients each day. Now, in years when the fruits aren’t very sweet (meaning that the sugar content is lower than usual) a lot of people ad sugar to this concoction. Sugar always increases the strength of the brew. My advice is not to use sugar. I like it the natural way.
3. After fermentation: So what happens afterwards? Well fermentation lasts between 4 or 6 weeks. If you exceed the limit, it is most likely that the quality will not be as good, plus you will obtain less palinka after distilling.
Now in order to continue the process you need the “heavy artillery”. If you don’t have the distillation device at your home, then go to a friend or to someone who has one. Making pálinka implies basic physics. Evaporation and condensation are the key words in a distillation process. Now the kit itself is quite expensive. Let’s say you have some extra space, room in your backyard and you want to make a small home distillery. The copper elements are sold (also traditionally 😀 ) by romas/gypsies from the Nyárád/Niraj region in Transylvania. They are experts in making the best cauldrons and pipes. A medium size set will cost you from 600-1000 euros.
Then you need to build the furnace. It has to be made out of bricks and the main cauldron has to be built in it. The cauldron will have a stirring mechanism and a pipe coming out of it, which will end in a spiral pipeline submerged in a barrel full of water. This is where the condensation will take place. And of course you need a bucket at the end of the pipeline.
4. The distillation. Well if you thought you will be ready in two minutes making pálinka, you’re wrong. It will last through the night, so get your coffee ready or just call a couple of buddies over.
First you have to heat up the furnace. You use wood. We are doing it the old way. I don’t even wanna hear of gas burners. After the furnace is heated, slowly fill the cauldron up to about half of its capacity and don’t forget to stir while you are at it. You have to stir, because if not, you’ll end up with a lot of burnt and wasted fermented fruits. After you completed the filling, you put the cap on the cauldron, attach the pipes between the cauldron and the spiral condensation pipes (of course, don’t forget to fill up the barrel, in which the spirals are, with cold water). After you attached the pipes you have to seal it. You can use polenta (puliszka, mămăligă), which you make by boiling water with cornflower, until you get a sticky paste or just mix some wheat flower with water (csíriz). You have to spread the paste over each joint, so the precious vapors won’t escape.
And now you wait and stir, and stir and wait, and put some more wood in the furnace, drink your coffee, chat with your buddies and time will pass in no time.
After about a gooood hour the first drops of pálinka should appear at the end of the spiral pipeline. Now what happens? When you put in the fermented fruits, you heat up a semi-liquid which starts to vaporize, it passes through the pipes as a really hot mass of gas (so don’t touch the pipes as they will burn you). The gases pass into the spiral pipes, cooled with water. They condense and form a liquid which will come out at the end of the pipeline.
Now don’t be happy. This still ain’t pálinka. In Romanian you would call it ţuică, in Hungarian otka. You can drink it if you want to, as it is strong as a vodka, but we’re making pálinka so you need to double distill it. You wait until the last droplets come out and store the initial liquid in some recipients. Than after you did the first batch of distilling, you clean out the cauldron. It will have a hole where you can dispose of the leftovers and you have to thoroughly wash it out. If you are rich you can have two separate cauldrons. If not, start scrubbing!
After you cleaned it out, put in the initial brew, the otka. And the same process repeats itself. But now you have an already strong alcohol being distilled, which will be even stronger :D. So be careful when you want to taste it on the other side. It can send you in paradise after a couple of shots.
! Warning: the initial droplets (“the coppery one”) that come out during the second distillation are really strong, approx. 65-70% and can contain methanol and have a blueish colour, so please discard it (thank you one of the commenters for reminding me). How much do you have to let it flow? It depends on your taste. If you have an alcohol meter, then a good palinka has to be between approx. 52-58 % (stronger than this and it will be hard to drink). If you don’t have an alcohol meter, than you get a small shot of it and throw it on the cauldron. In case it ignites instantly, it is still good. If not, then you stop the process.
5. Storage: well by the time you will have to store the brew, you will be pretty much shit faced. You have your buddies with you. You always have to test it, so by morning you will be crawling (let’s hope not). Now pálinka is drinkable as it came out, so you can start drinking it. You can put it in glass bottles with corks, but the best way to preserve it is by putting it in mulberry wood barrels. This will give a distinctive flavor and color to the drink. Plus if you put a piece of fruit (the fruit it was made out of) in the barrel and leave it like this for a year it will be the best medicine.
Just don’t abuse it guys. It is definitely “fire water” as my Portuguese friend Marco said when he tasted it. Egészséget! Noroc! Nazdrave! Saluti ! Salud ! Skaul! Prost! Skol! Nazdarovja
Kolozsvár 2OO8 nov. 2