Hungary scores EU points with schnapps machine

Tue May 24, 2011 5:36am EDT
 
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By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - Hungary, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, has used every tool in diplomacy to impress visiting EU officials. The most memorable touch however, may be a parting shot of fruit brandy. At the EU Presidency Lounge of the Ferenc (Franz) Liszt International Airport in Budapest, protocol workers have installed a novel machine that distributes Palinka - a fiery fruit brandy native to Hungary - in crystal glasses. For free.

After a busy summit day, dozens of delegations pass through the lounge, said Peter Horvath, a Foreign Ministry protocol officer. For the 40 minutes they spend in the lounge waiting for their planes, "the box" becomes a hit.

An angular contraption in glitzy black plastic, glass and raw aluminum, the machine dispenses schnapps made of cherries, plums, and the most popular variety, apricots. It has issued almost 1,500 shots since its inauguration in February.

"Everyone likes it," Horvath said. "Diplomats from Nordic or Baltic countries have warmed up to it especially quickly, as did some others from Ireland - but everyone likes it."

He declined to say who the biggest schnapps fans were.

"After the defense ministers' informal meeting earlier this year, there wasn't anyone who did not want a shot. Returning diplomats drag first-timers to come try the box."

The schnappsomat is the first and only one of its kind in the world, said Peter Sarkadi, an engineer who designed the machine. As fine liquors conquer eastern corners of Europe, automation will help popularize the high-end stuff, he said.

"Drinking is more sophisticated these days," Sarkadi said. "Plus the world is accelerating, so a self-service model fits that world to a tee."

(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Paul Casciato)