How to make pálinka?

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😀. 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

42 responses to “How to make pálinka?

  1. Ez egy hasznos post, linkelni fogom az érdeklődőknek! Köszönet érte.

    BTW, nem tudom, milyen felbontású képernyőd van, de nálam kicsit elcsúszva jelenik meg az oldal, ami zavarja az átláthatóságot (recent comments lés a többi widget alul van):

  2. hmm….eszrevettem en is….ha a laptomomon hasznalom, Firefoxxal akkor minden oke. De ha mar mas gephez megyek, nem mindig, de sokszor elcsusznak a widgetek a kepek vagy eltunnek, vagy fura iratok jelennek meg. Neha az explorer is elcseszi. Nem tudom pontosan mi az oka. Amiota ezt a templatet hasznalom, csak gondok voltak az oldallal….Megprobalom helyrehozni. Thanks for the observation🙂

  3. SZia,
    Gratulalunk, nagy erdekes a blogod.
    Lennel olyan kedves elkuldeni nekunk, hogy a Nagypapad hol es kitol vette az ustot a Nyarad menten, mert szivesen vennenk mi is egyet.:) Elore is koszonom!

  4. huuu, szivesen megmondanam…a gond ,hogy en valami 12 eves lehettem, amikor nagyapam elkeszitette a palinka fozot….nem tudom, ha meg mindig ugy van, de annak idejen a Nyarad menti badogos Gaborok jartak a falvakat…Ilyenkor javitottak meg a csatornarendszert vagy netan epp usteket arultak…szerintem barmelyik nagy Gabor faluban lehet talalni😀

  5. Geez! thx friend for the info, my granparents always do tuica so i just want to try out the new formula PALINCA. lets hope it will come out great:)

  6. Glad to be a help for you…Numai aparam traditiile😀 Vreau si eu o gustarica din rezultatul final😉

  7. Kőszi szépen. Megprobálom az idén. Floridábol irok, elkűldőm barátaimnak is.

    Jenő

  8. remélem sikerülni fog, de hol szerzel réz üstöt és szilvát Floridában :D?

  9. Very well written description of making Palinka. I’ve recently started making fruit liqueurs and am interested in learning about different traditional liquors. Thank you for the good information.

  10. I fell in love with Palinka when i was in Budapest and am hoping to make some when i get back to Canada.

    Your article was awesome!

  11. haha😀

    Vancouverben: home depot! mindent megtalálsz😀

    csak szilvát nem…😀

    szép kis lei’rás!

  12. Szia,
    Egy külföldi barátomnak kerestem infót a pálinkafőzésről, amikor ráakadtam erre a cikkre. Nagyon jó!!Viszont a kifőzés valószínűleg nagy gond lesz – megfelelő felszerelés hiányában. Arra van valami ötleted, hogy hogy lehet ezt “konyhai” eszközökkel megoldani? Tisztán emlékszem, hogy dédmamám valahogy tudott a tűzhelyen is pálinkát, vagy valami ahhoz hasonlót főzni. Előre is köszi a segítséget! üdv:Beus

  13. nice article I was thinking about making palinka out of blueberry´s do you now how much I need of them to make 5-10 l.
    thank you very much
    Bjarki Sól

  14. Hm, never tried blueberry before, but it depends on the fruit…pears or plums have quite a high concentration of liquids so they have a tendency of letting more out….I would say count it with a 1/10 ratio….10 liters of palinka would need 10 buckets of blueberries…don’t forget that u double distill it so it will lose volume

  15. Pingback: 2010 in review – asszondja a uördpressz, hogy jól ment « Gashicsavargo’s Weblog

  16. Thanks for your post, it is very explicit and easy to understand.

    i’m gonna make it, but not as the old way, i am going to use a gas burner, so I have a question:

    “The Flame”: how much intensity should i use? i mean, the maximun mode, moderate or just a little bit of flame until the end of the process?

    Thanks!!!

    • Hei rhonny…glad u liked the info..

      because in the “old fashion way” people use wooden logs, a gas burner will have a more intense flame. So I would put it on a moderate level and provide constant heat and flame. Don’t forget to stear quite often.This is why I recommend a moderate flame, because you might end up with the fruit mash sticking to the inner side of the caldron.

      Good luck making it🙂

      Gashi

  17. Hello and thanks for making the process concise. I`m just about to make my first attempt and I am not clear about what happens to the “tails” of the brew. You explained the “tops” bit but no mention of the tails, is this because the double distillation removes the problem?

    • Hei David, let me know what “tails” u are reffering to🙂 do u mean the leftovers after the distillation ?

      • Yes, as I understand it is the final part of the distillation which can be dangerously high in alcohol content. Or am I just over concerned.
        Thanks.

  18. Okei, so when u distill it the first time, whatever is left in the caldron (the residue) u throw it away. Then u wash out the caldreon and put in the firstly distilled liquor. Now the most dangerous, meaning bloody strong, part is always the first part of the second distillation. The alcohol content can be high as 70 degrees, so u have to leave it dripping untill the overall strength is 52-56 degrees🙂 But then again u can make it stronger or lighter. Whatever is left in the caldron u chuck it out🙂

  19. hi could you tell me, in the fermentation process do i mash the fruits up and add water? does the mash have to be at a certain tempreture while fermenting? thanks🙂

    • Hei,

      When u ferment it, first u mash or crush the fruits, ’cause this way the fruits will let out more juice. No, don’t add water, because after 2-3 weeks the fruits should be a semiliquid mass. The mash should be kept somewhere in a cellar or a cooler room for 2-3 weeks, even at room temperature. Some people also add sugar if the fruits were not sweet enough that year. The sweeter the fruit the stronger the alcohol🙂 I would not recommend adding sugar🙂

  20. Very informative post. You’ve inspired me to try and make some Pálinka here in California.

    Köszi,
    Krisztián

  21. My wife is Hungrian and we go back twice a year, I expecially like the fall when her cousin Pitz makes his palinka. After he makes his wine. My favorite is Silva or Plum great stuff I keep 5 or 6 bottles on hand here in Florida all the time. Your procedure is right on we have been making this fine beverage for many years.
    Gene
    South Florida

  22. well- just made my 1st batch- the wife brought home a still from her visit home to Balatonakili, I’m learning as I can’t read the book, but get the idea of it, Great site. So far I’m using the gas grill with all copper. Using Plum as it is my father in law’s favorite.
    Dan K

    • 🙂 I hope I will be able to make a proper video at my late grandfather’s place, but I’ve been living abroad for the last 5 years and it is hard to go home in the harvest period.

  23. i have thought long and hard about this. i want to make palinka! i live in the US but my roots are in HU. it seems the process is much like make Moonshine only more exact. i would like to study under your supervision. what is the likelihood of that?

    • Hi Tom,

      I just used to make it with my granddad when he was still alive🙂 But any advice you might need, just let me know🙂 In a lot of ways it is like moonshine, as any spirit needs to be distilled and then aged. It will depend on the distillation process, aging process, the raw material used whether something will end up a palinka, a slibovitza, a rakija, a whiskey, a bourbon😀

  24. Reblogged this on Lords of the Drinks and commented:
    Last Saturday your own writer Micky enjoyed some fine glasses of Hungarian pálinká. Homemade of course. Which got us interested in the recipe. Basically it’s quite the same as the rakia you can find in the countries at the Balkan peninsula. And here we stumbled on a great article that describes how to make your very own pálinká from scratch. Definetely a must read if you like making your own booze.

  25. Really a wonderful post… I had some great homemade pálinká on Saturday and my curiousity led me here… Hope you don’t mind I reblogged it!😀

  26. Beauty, 100% accurate. We usually do this in with plums, but, we only have apple bearing trees in our area, so we will try that.

    And if someone tries apples, I recommend coring them to avoid cyanide poisoning.

    • Wow. I must admit I never tried it with apples😀 Plums, pears and cherries till now. Also once the “törköly” pálinka which you make after you have pressed the grapes for wine😀

  27. ATTENTION! The information here about the distillation process is dangerously misleading as it says NOT A SINGLE WORD that methanol (the first liquid flows from the 2nd distillation) MUST be thrown out ( – or kept only for window cleaning purposes). It has a blueish color and sharp scent, and it is a deadly poison!! You can go blind or die because of it EASILY! Do your research if you want to make pálinka! It is not as easy as it sounds. Be safe people.

    • That will depend on the temperature you boil it at and also the types of fruits you are using. My grandfather would always throw away the first drops of the second distillation due to taste and alcohol content. I personally never saw any blueish color. What I have written here is how my grandfather used to do it, according to local traditions, and not how chemical engineers do it in high-class distillation plants. I wrote in the post to be careful with the initial flow of the second distillation. They must have gotten something right in the region if noone got blind and the palinka always tasted good😉

      • Mert kidobták a rézelejét amiben metil van, azért. Hőmérséklet: azért látom valami rémlik, elmondom – a metil alacsonyabb hőfokon párolog az etilnél, ezért jön először desztillálásnál. Szépen lemarja a réz páracső belsejét, a rézoxid miatt van kékes színe a metiles folyadéknak. Nagyapád pálinkafőzőjéből akkor nem csöpögött ki rézeleje ha nem rézből volt a páracső. Fix egyes hogy rézből volt, szóval nem láttad, oké. Pl. itt olvasgass utána http://www.palinkafozo-gep.hu/?hu_palinka-f%C5%91zes,13, és ne írj légy szíves butaságokat mert magasan dobja a gugli a lapodat és embereket tudsz a fals infókkal megmérgezni. Köszönöm.

  28. Kedves Balázs, kösz az infót. A “rezelőt”, nagyapámék fele így nevezték a rézelejét mindig eldobták. Ezt nem írtam le teljesen egyértelműen, habár kiíírtam, hogy warning. A cikket 2OO8-ban írtam és úgy hiszem elmagyarázom az elején elég jól, hogy miért írtam és, hogy aszerint, ahogy az öregem annak idején csinálta. Most kiegészítettem, hogy legyen egyértelmű. Ez nem egy tudományos leírás és a bloggom nem alkohol főzéssel foglalkozik, arról pedig nem tehetek, hogy a google magas számban dobja ki illete, milyen más blog másolja le lapomat. Mégegyszer köszönöm az infót, de máskor azért ügyeljünk a hangnemre, mert azon még lehet javítani. Minden rézből készült amúgy, felső-nyárádmenti rézművesek csinálták helyben az üstöt

  29. Ferenc from Tasmania,
    I have recently started distilling various types of alcohol based drinks, For many years I have wanted to try Palinka but never knew the preocess. Having read your way of doing it is easy enough BUT I cannot find any description of what is needed for the initial fermentation. The way I read it was that you just put the mashed fruit down and it ferments by itself. Is that correct or does it need something like yeast or sugar? Hope you can assists

    • Hi there! Happy New YEar, I just started mine with some körte pálinka😀
      Normally you don’t add anything. Especially not yeast! Some ppl in the country side would add sugar to boost the volume of alcohol being distilled or if the fruit was not particularly juicy that year, but we don’t use anything. You just grind up the fruit and make sure you don’t fill the container fully as it expands during the process. If the year is good you will have more palinka, if the fruits are not so juicy you will have less. Bottom line, only use the fruit, nothing else🙂 (BTW, did you know that when whiskey is put in the barrel after distillation they add water😉, not to palinka).

    • Dear Ferenc,

      controlled fermenting gives much better results, and it is not very hard to maintain: the pH level of the mash MUST be under 3.5, preferably 3.0-3.2, do not go under 2.8. This will prevent harmful microorganisms to take over. Electronic pH-meters are not very expensive and it is one of the tools that you must have to create healthy mash. For acidifying the mash the best is to use tartaric acid, even sulfuric acid works well. Citric acid is not OK, as it can be consumed by bacteria. All acid must be diluted before adding. Many fruits do not need acidifying but check the pH of the mash everytime, there are no worse things than wasting hundreds of liters of mash due to infection in the middle of the fermentation. Plum and apricot usually do not need any help, they have such high amount of sugar and aggressively vigorous fermentation that no bacteria or mold can take hold before it is done.

      Best temperature for fermenting the mash is 17-20 Celsius. It will be ready when it is not sweet anymore (burn a drop on tinfoil, if you cannot smell or see caramel then it is done), and the surface is clear, watery and mirror-like, takes about two weeks at all. Do not harass the mash while fermenting! No mixing is needed (oxigen-bubbles should not be introduced to the mash), put a fitting plastic foil on top of the mash, it will prevent oxidation and mold. Only close the barrel lightly, not fitting tight, so CO2 can leave. CO2 protects the top of the mash, do not open the barrel daily to check whats going on, and do not store the fermenting mash in your cellar as CO2 can make a deadtrap there,

      Your mash MUST be distilled ASAP after finishing the fermentation, as you will lose a lot of alcohol if you wait. I do not put yeast nor sugar in it, but always be very very careful to use only clean, ripe, close to “marmelade-quality” chopped fruits in your mash. Only before a few days the mash is finished, it is advisable to grind the bigger chunks with a long paint-mixer extension of a corded drilling machine, it does wonders.

      When cooking the mash be aware not to burn it, and store the liquid in separate containers, so if you happen to nail it (it is a very common mistake for beginners of this art) you will not ruin all the batch. If you have time you can make wonderful fruit vinegar: the last part of the cook is sour, and yes, it is vinegar one can use fi. cleaning or in salads. I do store the blue metilalcohol too (that I only separate in the second cooking, the distillation), perfect for cleaning windows, but label it well as it is poisonous.

      There are several technical tricks to open the aromas more with pectine-opener and aromaextracting enzymes, latter are usually only used with the most expensive fruits (like raspberry or strawberry to have the best scent output) or with those that have little aromatic esters in them. Also there are special yeasts that can start fermentation at as low as 6-7 Celsius, but a long fermentation process is always much more risky than the fast. May I ask what kind of fruits do you plan to make pálinka from?

      Happy New Year and have great fun with your pálinka!

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