New wave gin from Bestillo
When we talk about Boldogkőváralja, then it’s Bestillo. If it’s Bestillo, it’s pálinka. Until now that is. As from now, it’s gin. Or gin as well. And what gin! The harmonious drink is made with the same exceptional care as Gábor Czakó and his partner, Móni, distil the fruit, only in this case, the obsessed fruit brandy team doesn’t process raspberries, instead they peel the organically cultivated bergamot oranges in the kitchen. And instead of the selected, own-grown, chemical-free apricots, they put the organic juniper and spices into the still.
Gábor Czakó: It doesn’t come from me, Móni came up with the whole thing.
Mónika Czakó: It turned out that around the world, very few people are interested in Hungarian fruit brandy, pálinka. And I came up with gin – Gábor resisted it for two years. He kept repeating that we make pálinka, and that we deal with fruit. And I kept softening him up, saying that it will be good. When he was in a good mood, I mentioned the gin. Also, in the winter, when we had time for it…
12 out of 45
Gábor: Eventually, I gave in. I bought about 45 botanicals, fruits and juniper berries. During the first distillation, it turned out that the fruit with treated skin gives an undrinkable, bitter result. Then came the organics. The Choco me chocolatiers also helped us to find the right lime.
Móni: He gave in when I told him that I still didn’t have any of my own products in this family-run company. Gábor started the pálinka, and I live and work with it, but it’s Gábor’s.
G: We travelled around half the world and tasted, tasted and tasted. We needed another two years, until we started feeling what we liked.
M: We travelled, read, made friends, we learnt the tricks of the trade. Gábor macerated, distilled and tasted all the raw materials separately. Eventually 12 out of the 45 secret spices were selected.
What’s a good recipe like?
G: Every book says different things. There are people who soak, macerate, and others just throw everything into the pot and distil. So, there is no recipe, or rather there are loads but they all say different things. There are basic things that are needed: juniper, coriander and citrus fruit, which are disclosed by everyone. Then comes the secretiveness, and for us, experimenting. This field is going through amazing development here: a few years ago, there were no distilled drinks in Hungarian gin. They were just soaked in alcohol, filtered, with added aromas, and people said they didn’t like gin. Then, a few people started doing it professionally here as well – they wanted to do something exciting.
With or without tonic?
M: You can’t even imagine how many bad gins are out there in the world. Gin festivals, pubs, distilleries… and we’ve tasted loads. There were some that we skipped upon smelling then, there were some we licked a bit from, and there were flavours and directions when we said we should follow this direction. We only had one aim – to distil a gin, so that when you make a gin and tonic out of, you would want to have another one, and another one. It works by itself or with ice, but when you add a good tonic to it, then it’s a real miracle. With lots of carbon dioxide, ice cold, dried citrus slices, a couple of peppers, ginger… these really suit it well.
Can you make it from pálinka?
G: We experimented with our own base spirit, with pure pálinka, but it didn’t work. Even the purest pálinka is not pure enough for the finesse of gin. The good base spirit is pristinely pure, one cannot feel what it’s distilled from. It requires complete purity and everything soaks in pure spirit, so we needed to learn the trade from the beginning somewhat. We need to work in a completely different time frame: a fruit brandy is distilled in three, three and a half hours, while a gin needs eight and a half.
M: We tasted every evening. If I don’t count the tasting of the ingredients to learn what we needed, what we wanted to work with, then the two of us distilled and tasted over 20 distillates, or more precisely Gábor did, and I learnt next to him. Even along the way, new flavours and new spices were added. I enjoyed it a lot. It was full of challenges: how to keep the citrusy quality that is intense at the beginning but needed to stay until the end. How the spices can complement each other without one dominating the rest.
G: It’s really exciting: when you distil it, the aromas come after one another during the process. And the aim is that the aromas and flavours should build up in the same order in the glass.
But who is Mrs. Millicent?
M: We got in touch with some graphic designers, but at the time when the concept of the gin wasn’t ready from our side, the designers couldn’t match a concept with it. None of them could piece the story together. We were talking to designer Zsolt Unger about a completely different subject, when he shared with me that until then, nobody had contacted him about a Hungarian gin. As he put it in his usual foulmouthed way, he was just standing on the corner in vain. They went away and came back with a name. Gábor went ballistic, but they told us it would be good that in one way it’s a Hungarian thing but it’s also international. The enigmatic figure of the novel Journey by Moonlight, Miss Millicent was spot on for me. The bottle was the hardest to find: it became such a bottle that is different in every environment. We love it very much.
M: The image of enigma and secretiveness was dreamt up by Zsolt and his team. The bars that operated during Prohibition were called Speakeasies, where one could step in after knocking at the door. “For you and for me, all doors are open,” it reads on the label. Earlier you knocked, they peeped out and you were either let in or not. We don’ have our own history in gin, so we put an old one alongside it.
Do you like it?
G: Everything appears pristine purely in it. In the Netherlands, in our favourite distillery, we were told that if we do it right, we will forget about the pálinka for a while. But we also like that as well. Still, this is like an ethereal thing. Its purity, the pleasure on the taste buds, that you don’t drink it by itself but in a long drink or as a gin and tonic.
M: It’s a thing that even the two of us can do. We grind it, we mash it, the other day Gábor peeled 90 kilos of organic oranges in one day, because we work with fresh fruit. We steamed its skins, since then we have lots of marmalade, cordial and juice. Until now, we only had apricot cordial, now bergamot and orange. The most important point is that it ought to be layered and nothing should suppress the other things, the citrus, the flowers, the pepper. We wish to enjoy and convey the experience that Gábor feels when distilling. It’s built up as a perfume. The aromas and the flavours come one after another. We love it.