We are in Hungary's northernmost fruit growing region: Hegyalja. It is not just everything about the Tokaji aszú here. With its unique warm and dry continental microclimate, fruit produced here for hundreds of years on the hillsides of the Cserehát at 150-300 metres above sea level, on terraces and plains along the river Hernád, on the gently rolling hills of Szerencs.
In Hungary, distilling spirit or brandy is a very much conventional way of using up excess fruit gathered up in your garden or from the hedgerow. Even the leftover marc and pomace from wine making finds its way to transform into this fierce spirit. You can find small government registered public distilleries staffed with qualified distillers dotted around the country where you can get your very own brandy from your very own fruit, based on a yearly allowance. Given that you are over 18 years of age and you pay a specialized Excise Duty on the distilled product! It can be used for your personal consumption or can be gifted but cannot be sold officially in shops or bars. You can even express your wishes towards the distiller what strength of spirit you would like to have at the end, obviously, within reason and regulation.
These brandies are usually clear, transparent spirits, but on occasion some of them is being aged in oak or rarely in mulberry barrels.
The most famous fruit of all that is used to make brandy out of is the gönci apricot. Gönc is a village nearby where the small oak barrels used to be made for ageing Tokaji wine. The gönci apricot’s distinctiveness originates from a combination of beneficial climatic conditions, the specific fruit cultivar, and local traditions. It is so famous in Hungary that has its own Festival!
The Bestillo Distillery is not one of these above-detailed distilleries. It produces and bottles its own brandy and does not distil for public use. The distillery is surrounded by idyllic pastures and agricultural lands in the North-Eastern part of Hungary, just outside the village of Boldogkőváralja (it literally means ‘at the foot of the happy stone castle', that sounds rather wonderful). The distillery has been producing exceptional quality, traditional, award-winning Hungarian fruit brandy, locally called pálinka, for over a decade. It is the love project of couple of friends who set out to make the greatest brandy in Hungary.
Here you can taste a great variety of these fruit based Pálinkas and have a tour around the distillery if you call ahead and book. Tasting spirits is never easy. These fine beverages contain at least 40% alcohol and even more on occasion. Just careful there! My favourites, that I would strongly recommend trying, are:
- the Gönci Apricot Pálinka, which is their signature product,
- the Raspberry Pálinka, which is delicate and fruity,
- the Sloe Pálinka,
- and the Aged Aszú Törköly (törköly means pomace) Pálinka, which is made from the pressed aszú pomace and aged in barrels.
There is plenty more though, Plum, Apple, Quince, William’s Pear, Wild cherry, Sour cherry, Muscat marc, Muscat wine and blends. In the little gift shop, you can buy small bottle selections, but 0,5 l or 0,7 l bottles as well, if you are happened to be the designated driver. There is even some apricot jam to sweeten up the teetotaller family members. It is a special place, with a special product!
Photographs by The Tannin Addict.