For those who distill pálinka, a type of Hungarian brandy, making this fruit-based alcohol is not just a process – it is an art form dating back centuries. Most Hungarians will insist that a home brew is the best and only way to go, however there are several distillers who’s skills have earned them a name in the world of pálinka, and the following is a list of the top ten brands.
Age: 30+ years
Awards: 200+, including 2 silver medals at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in 2017
What makes it special: Szicsek is a force to be reckoned with in the world of pálinka. The founder of this powerhouse got his start in 1982 and has been perfecting pálinka ever since. One of Szicsek’s greatest accomplishments is its foothold around the world. You can buy this brand in Canada, Germany, Belgium, Slovakia, Ireland, Austria, Great Britain, Romania and Russia. The distillery also started House of Hungarian Pálinkas, a retail store chain with four locations.
Age: 15 years
Awards: 300+, including Distiller of the Year at the 2009 Destillata Awards
What makes it special: Agardi refuses to compromise quality and uses only the best fruits produced on the land surrounding the distillery itself. It releases limited quantities of its highly sought after bottles. It has also partnered with Empire of Hungary Imports to bring the best Hungarian pálinka to the United States.
Age: 100 years
Awards: 30+, including 5 Gold Medals at the 2017 Vas County Open Pálinka and Parlatverseny
What makes it special: Pannonhalmi has used the one hundred years it has been open to hone its distilling method into a fine craft. The most unique thing about this distillery is its flavors – not only does it offer an array of traditional and modern, but it ventures into territory that few other distillers do not dare go, with flavors such as spicy pear sprouts and parmesan cheese.
Age: 15 years
Awards: Business Superbrand Award 2017
What makes it special: Panyolai is a young distillery, but like many others, the recipes and methods it uses date back to the 1700s. This distillery uses traditional processes combined with modern technology to create a high-quality product. In addition, it offers consumers the opportunity to see how this unique beverage is made with a visit to the distillery.
Age: 11 years
Awards: Best Pálinka of Hungary 2016
What makes it special: Pálinka was a part of the founder of this company’s life long before it became a business. Passed down for five generations, both the men and women of this family were involved in the making of pálinka, with fruit from the family’s own orchards. With six acres of plum orchards surrounding the distillery, the company prides itself especially on its plum-based pálinkas.
Age: 7 years
Awards: 5+, including the Master Class Distillery Award at the 2014 World Spirit Awards
What makes it special: This young distillery sets itself apart by offering a small selection of pálinkas that are expertly crafted. The staff are self-described “pálinka perfectionists” and you can even buy a crystal glass specially selected to be worthy of a Nobilis pálinka.
Awards: 200+, including 6 Gold and 3 Silver Medals at the 2012 World Spirit Awards
What makes it special: Zwack is known as the maker of unicum, Hungary’s other famous drink, so naturally the company would produce its own pálinka as well. It launched its line of pálinkas, called Sándor Nemes, ten years ago, and in that short time has collected a hefty number of awards and recognition. Though it may be from a larger operation than the other pálinkas on this list, the fact that it is means that pálinka has become mainstream – and that in itself is important.
Age: 21 years
Awards: 10+, including 1 Gold and 2 Silver Medals at the 2012 World Spirit Awards
What makes it special: Though pálinka and jam had been made from the fruits of the verdant town of Tarpa for hundreds of years, the establishment of Tarpa Manufaktúra preserved recipes and traditions that had been passed down from generation to generation. Visit the town of Tarpa and enjoy a tasting at the Szalajka-Beregi Pálinka House, which has been standing since 1862.
Age: 280+ years
Awards: 60+, including 3 Gold, 4 Silver, and 6 Bronze Medals at the 2012 Destillata Awards
What makes it special: After nearly 300 years, Gyulai has an immense inventory, and the sheer volume of pálinkas it produces is impressive. Whatever your mood, chances are Gyulai has a pálinka for that. In addition, their new branding is clean and eye-catching, making pálinka accessible for a younger generation – adding one more to the many who have grown to know and love this spirit.
Age: 150 years
Awards: 4 Gold and 7 Silver Medals at the 2011 World Spirit Awards
What makes it special: Though pálinka has been around for a long time, Matheus claims that their recipe came from Franciscan monks who developed it in the 16th and 17th centuries. They even produce Kosher pálinka under the supervision of two rabbis, which makes them even more unique.
Though it is centuries old, pálinka remains as popular as ever today, and several distillers have managed to set themselves apart from the rest. What is your favorite brand and type of pálinka?