Opinion: Communist Cocktails vol 1.

Location: Europe, Hungary
Other: Opinion, People

I was sitting in my fathers car, we were headed to Tokaj, and I wanted to die. I was so hungover it was visible from space. No wonder: just the night before I managed to teach the crew of a Budapest bar what a Tom Collins was. Furthermore I managed to explain them what a bar tab was. A few hours and about 2 bottles of Beefeater later I am sitting next to my dad, we are speeding through the big flat empty nothing a.k.a. the  Hungarian Plain (the “Puszta” as we call it) towards Tokaj. And I`m not really feeling well…

On these father-and-son trips we usually talk about booze and politics: he is a trained-winemaker-became-journalist and I am a trained-journalist-became-sommelier. At this specific trip I was silent and rather observant. I just wanted to hide behind my shades, and possibly perish into nothing, where there is no white noise and juniper burps.

Dad asked me if I ever heard about the drink called “Puszta Cocktail”. Nope. Never. Apparently it was a sort of official communist tourism industry recipe to please the westerners venturing through the Iron Curtain. We could go on for hours about the gastronomy and drinks industry of the communist era. To make the long story short: It was full of pseudo-authentic recipes and in the meantime it killed the regionality and local practices. (I googled the recipe several times, and could not find out who published it first and when was it born but according to my father it must have happened in the late `60s.)

So here is the recipe: 50ml Tokaj Szamorodni, 30ml peach palinka (aka schnapps), 20ml bitter liquor (the original recipe mentions “Mecseki” that was a lighter flavoured herbal bitter, but its productions stopped back in `04). Pour all ingredients into a shaker, stir it and pour it into a martini glass. By the time my father got here in the story, I started to feel really uncomfortable, as I managed to imagine the flavour. I shouldn`t have done that….

Problems start with the ingredients. Let`s take a look at what was available for a bartender in Hungary during the communist era.! Tokaj Dry Szamorodni was something like a sherry (and not a good one). The smooth fruity qualities of the wines were totally destroyed by the oxidative ageing so imagine confit white fruit hiding under bread and walnuts. Thanks to the careless mass production it was volatile as hell.

The apricot Palinka back then was more of a paint thinner than the “pride-of-the-country-the-national-booze” it is nowadays. Instead of distilling fermented fruit in a pot still, the communist beverage industry came up with a lot more effective production method: water+high vol. alcohol+artificial fruit aromas. I remember the “brown label” peach palinka from high school: it was brutally effective in terms of intoxication, but guaranteed a hellish hangover.

I googled a couple of recipes, they don`t mention ice or anything to cool the ingredients with.

Imagine as the luke warm high acidity yet sherry like brownish wine blends with the strong sweetie paint thinner and the whole experience is thickened by the sweetish herb liquor. Volatility uber alles baby…. This drink was supposed to take the cocktail bars all over the world. Or at least that`s what its creators thought in the `70s. Thank god it did not happen. There so much more quality in palinka than having its reputation ruined with this pseudo-authentic commie drink…

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Gergely Barsi Szabó

Gergely Barsi Szabó got his first sommelier job when he arrived in London a few years ago. As he puts it, 'At Le Bouchon Breton they gave me the wine list, pushed me to the floor, and pretty much that was it.' Starting out as a journalist in his native Hungary, Barsi Szabó moved closer and closer to the world of wine. At Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 2005 he had a satori moment, realising that this was an actual industry, and a fun one at that. Ever since then he has worked, on and off, in the trade. He is most interested in what is in the bottle, and even more importantly, in the people involved.

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