There’s a place in a quiet street of Zamárdi where fruit takes center stage, and the pálinka is not made from the neighbor’s wellies, but from fresh, juicy fruit by a real expert. Gyümölcs Wellness Center can be a fun location even if you’re not a fan of alcohol, as it also offers tasty fruit juices and Hungarian-style pizza, and there’s even a handmade playground set.
“Come, Levente, drink a little bit of this. Believe me, it’s no swill, it was made by Uncle Arnold next door. You know, he really knows what he’s doing, he had such little fruit to work with, but he managed to make several liters of pálinka anyway. Go on, have a swig, it’s a drink for real men. It takes the paint off the side of a boat, but it can do wonders for your stomach. Come, little Csenge, I was bored of beer at the age of five, too. Have a little taste.”
This typical imaginary monologue is something every Hungarian has heard at least once in their life; the names are perhaps different in each case. Knowing full well what the consequences are, experienced Hungarians are therefore very careful about such conversations. Promoting the enjoyment of the country’s favorite fruit brandy, the distillery of Gábor Pach in Zamárdi could save many careless people from similar encounters. Located by the local cellars, this establishment gives visitors an insight into how pálinka is made: with professional distilling equipment from good-quality, ripe, juicy fruit instead of rotten pieces.
Despite not being particularly fond of pálinka because of the above-mentioned risky situation, we were seriously tempted by the fragrances inside the distillation room of Gyümölcs Wellness Center (no joke!); but then we remembered that we came with Herbie, so our driver had to refrain from testing the fiery brandies. The premises are evolving still, but the plans for the future are very promising: a terrace, an outdoor cooking area, a homemade playground set and a sandbox for the kids, a small orchard open to the public, and a tiny gift shop. They’ll also sell the Hungarian-style pizza-like dish called “kenyérlángos” as well as a variety of syrups and dried fruits.
Making its debut this week, the distillery, which is also featured on the Gastro Map of the south shore, is run by Gábor Pach, who’s been involved in making pálinka for the past seven years. He worked for six years at Zimek Pálinka, and also made some fruit brandy on his own. This year he left Zimek, and launched his own business in Zamárdi.
Referred to as the “daredevil of pálinkamaking” by his friends, Pach likes to be different in everything, including pálinkamaking. The funny name Gyümölcs Wellness Center is also a result of his rebellious attitude. He’s an avid tarot player, while his business partner is a hockey fan; that explains the ice skates hanging from the fence, which function as strange flower boxes. Pach was ranked highest among the Hungarian contestants at the unofficial European championship of pálinkamaking, and he’s taught courses on how to make the Hungarian spirit for years. This is definitely more than a job for him; he considers his profession a kind of art.
“The point is not to drink a lot, but to try many different things,” says Pach to our concerned comment about drunk patrons disturbing the peace of Zamárdi at night. He thinks “this is not going to be a target destination for alcoholics”. One of his main aims is to bring pálinka closer to women; he thinks many of them are wary of drinking it because of bad previous experiences. The tour of the facility is free of charge, and if by the end you feel like picking up a bottle for yourself, you can do it for around 5,500-8,000 forints.
Gyümölcs Wellness Center is going to offer a more complex experience than small portions of pálinka. You can actually go behind the scenes to find out how real pálinka is concocted from real fruit. Pach says he’s had several groups of 10-15 people book appointments to see his distillation device in operation, and then settle down to relax in the fantastic orchard after the demonstration.