Moonshine Around the World - Making a Traditional European Fruit Brand

Moonshine Around the World - Making a Traditional European Fruit Brandy

You already know by now that having a whiskey still is not just a trifle for me; it’s both a passion and a necessity. For me, my whiskey still is not just a decoration object (thou it makes a pretty good one); it is my trusted friend in creating great recipes. Which is why I am going to talk to you today about palinca, a brandy whose name means simply “distilled spirit”, which I learnt how to make when I was in Transylvania.

Hence, as I was visiting and getting acquainted with what the area has to offer (all the beautiful, medieval fortresses, as well as the Dracula’s Castle), I managed to get a live demo on how palinca is made. The result: I instantly realized the process can be easily replicated back home, too, as long as I have my moonshine still. Actually, what surprised me the most was exactly the simplicity of the process: very few ingredients, fermentation and two rounds of distillation.

And, as I always share my precious whiskey-still-related info with you guys, here is the recipe that I got: plums and water. Yes, that’s all; no sugar involved.

Now, firstly, after you select the plumbs, you need to subject them to a classical fermentation process. Leave as long as necessary, until the fruits have fermented properly. Once the fermentation is complete, you can continue with the first distillation process: put the plumbs in the whiskey still and let them boil at medium heat. This first liquid resulting is next boiled again, following the same distillation steps as for any second distillation. Make sure to discard any product that comes of the still before liquid temperature reaches 174 degree or the first  5-10 % of the total alcohol contain because it could contain methanol. Its extremely unlikely that there would be enough methanol in a 5 or 10 gallon batch to hurt anyone, but it tastes bad. 

I am happy I learned something new and I cannot wait to invite some friends over this autumn and prepare some really good palinca.

Looking forward to hear your opinions after trying the recipe.



  • I would also like to add that Hungarian Palinka is not really “moonshine”. They look at that through a different perspective. In USA “moonshine” is basically something the government forbids people from making (even if they do it anyway). Now with Hungarians, there is a feeling that this is their national drink and inherent with being Hungarian is the RIGHT to make palinka at home (for home consumption). They feel very strongly about this right and collectively (popular opinion) is to stand up to the government (European Union now is screwing with this right) to restore this right or to not turn it into a situation like in US or other countries that forbid making this sort of thing at home. Palinka making at HOME is part of Hungarian TRADITION and they feel that is their right. So it’s not same mind set as making “moonshine”. Moonshine refers to home distilling when there is no tradition or government that ‘agrees’ that is your right. For the most part Hungarians fight for the right to continue making Palinka at home as recently the EU tried to put a damper on it. Americans don’t which is why it’s still called “moonshine”.

    Another think about Palinka is that it can’t be called that unless it’s made on Hungarian soil with Hungarian fruit. Even though there are ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania (Romania now), legally, it can’t be called “Palinka” if they wish to export with that name.

    I love the stuff but so hard to find in US. I doubt I could make it even though I saw it being done. It’s because there is ‘something about’ Hungarian soil and air that produces a better tasting fruit and the yeast to go with it to make a better tasting product than any other fruit brandy I’ve tried—even the high end French one with the pear in it.

    Now back to your plum brandy that you learned to make there. Did it come out just like over there?

    Posted by MissJ on November 03, 2013
  • The “classical fermentation” that the Hungarians use for Szilvas Palinka (Transylvania has a lot of ethnic Hungarians as it once belonged to Hungary) is basically to gather the plums, (a lot of which can be from fallen ones on ground fermenting already) and put them in a big barrel. There is no need to wash or add any yeast because for some reason they have the ‘right’ wild yeasts in the air. Some people pit them and squish them before tossing in barrel. But others just toss the batch of plums whole and later squish them with a CLEAN hoe pounded and plunged down later down the line. When they are first put in the fermentation container, there is some oxygen in there to help the yeasts duplicate in which case, they don’t put a tight seal on it. Later down the line when there is layer of CO2 gas (meaning the yeasts multiplied and are now converting the sugars into alcohol), they smash the plums and then seal the container so no air gets in and put a hose in cover connected to a bottle of water as air lock. When the bubbles stop, they put the ‘juice’ in still and distill. Some simply elect to use the first distillation but of course make sure to remove the ‘heads’ that come out first and keep testing the type of alcohol in there (methonol or ethanol) by tossing the contents of initial drip onto the pavement and torching it. If the flame is blue (kek tuz) it’s good stuff. The bad stuff does not burn the blue flame. Others elect to distill again—but a smaller separate still is needed for that.

    Posted by MissJ on November 03, 2013

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up