It is no secret to anyone who has been to Budapest that Hungarians love to drink. Hungarian liquor, like Pálinka or the world famous Unicum is famed for its great taste and incredible power. These spirits have won the hearts of millions, and have become well-known in many lands around the world. But aside from Hungarian liquor, did you know that Hungarian wine is also world class? And that in the past few years, Hungarian craft beers have become an internationally recognized alcoholic beverage?
In this article, we will explore the world of Hungarian liquor, and see the best places to look for each local specialty.
Until recently, the beer selection in Hungary was quite stale. Subpar local brews were the run of the mill, with mostly average Czech and German beers dominating the market all the way until the early 2010s. Then, the craft beer revolution happened. Small local breweries started popping up, making diverse, home-brewed Hungarian beer specialties much to the local beer aficionados’ delight. In a few short years, the shelves of stores became full of Hungarian IPAs, APAs, Stouts, Lagers, Pilsners, red and black beers, all local, all great quality.
Today, having Hungarian craft beer in your locale is almost mandatory. Close to every restaurant offers Hungarian bottled home-brews, and most ruin bars in the party district have a small selection of them on tap. Besides the bars and eateries, there are several pubs in and around the 7th district that cater exclusively to Hungarian micro-breweries such as the recently opened Brewdog, the ever-so-popular Neked Csak Dezső or one of the smaller ones such as Léhűtő. If you are looking for a truly diverse range of Hungarian brews head into one of these locales. You won’t regret it!
Where to try it:
The 7th district has several bars that specialize in Hungarian craft beer. Élesztő is one of the first and perhaps the best at the game, and they definitely have the largest selection of local beers on tap, from a wide variety of Hungarian micro-breweries. Or you can go to one of the bars mentioned above.
Hungarian wine is one of the best kept secrets of Europe. It is affordable, comes in both red and white, and is truly a world class alcoholic beverage. There are several different wine regions in the country, and each of them produce wine of a different character, thanks to the mineral rich water and fertile soil in the country.
The Tokaj region is known primarily for its sweet white dessert wines. But it is also home to the Furmint and Hárslevelű variety of grapes. These varieties are made into delicious dry white wine that is drunk on its own, and is also used in many kinds of cuvée both in and outside of the country.
Eger has red wines primarily, both dry and sweet. The Eger varieties are all highly acidic, and the wine from here usually has earthy overtones and nutty or spicy flavors.
Villány is an area near lake Balaton in southern Hungary. Some of the best wines of Hungary come from this region, both white and red, with an unmistakable character that has won several international medals.
Szekszárd produces red wine almost exclusively, and is the only region of Hungary to have wines that have earned the fabled Gold Star of wine making. No trip to Hungary is complete without a wine tasting, as these full bodied and amazing wines simply must be tasted to be believed.
Where to try it:
Every restaurant in the country will have a selection of Hungarian wines, and well established restaurants in the city usually have several premium vinos in stock. Veritas is a wine bar that specializes in amazing wines, and have the best selection from each region of Hungary. Doblo is another excellent wine bar and shop.
A Hungarian invention, that is the wine lover’s remedy for the hot summer months. A great alternative to beer, this refreshing drink is part white wine and part cool seltzer water. Depending on the ratio of wine and water, they are called different kinds of Fröccs, from sport fröccs (1 dl wine with 4 dl water) to Krúdy fröccs (1 dl water with 4 dl wine). This was invented not for fine wines, but for run of the mill, table wines and is a very common drink, considered somewhat lowbrow, despite attempts to introduce it as a facet of high-end gastronomy.
Where to try it:
Fröccsterasz is probably your best bet. You can try Fröccs from many different kinds of wine, and not have anyone judge you for it. You can buy a Fröccs at pretty much any establishment.
Pálinka is THE Hungarian liquor. It is our take on finding everything underneath the fruit tree, and fermenting, then distilling it. The strength of this drink is legendary, and although store-bought Pálinka can be pretty good, the homemade stuff is the real deal. It is legal in Hungary to make your own Pálinka, and Hungarians pride themselves on how great their Pálinka is, as producing premium quality Pálinka is somewhat of a status symbol.
This liquor is made from virtually every fruit available in Hungary: plum, apple, pear, peach, cherry and sour cherry, apricot, but also berries like gooseberry, strawberry, blueberry, and elderberry are sometimes used . The best Pálinka comes from Transylvania and southern Hungary. It is usually drunk as an aperitif, before a meal that will have plenty of starch and grease to soak up the strong Hungarian liquor.
Where to try it:
Pálinkamúzeum on Király Street is our recommendation. There are many stores, bars and establishments throughout the city that are dedicated to this drink. If you have come to visit a local, ask what their granddad’s last batch was like.
This is the most noble Hungarian liquor. It is a digestif and is made of more than forty different herbs according to a secret recipe that is guarded closely, and is aged in oak casks. They make it here in Budapest, i the factory of the famous Zwack family. This noble family used to make fine drinks for the court during the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
During communism, the Zwack family was forced to flee to America, and continued to produce their fine Hungarian liquor there, but slightly differently. The original, well guarded recipe was passed to a friend in Milan, who preserved it. After the regime change of 1989, Peter Zwack, returned to Hungary and resumed production of the original, Hungarian Unicum. This bitter is like Jägermeister, except it isn’t sweet at all, and much, much richer in flavor.
Where to try it:
The Unicum House is a museum and a great place to try this special Hungarian liquor. This museum holds regular tours, where you can get to know about the Zwack family and the history of the Monarchy in an illustrative fashion.
The Magic Word
Now that you know what to drink, and where to get it, there is one more thing you need to know. Like anywhere else, it is customary to toast before you drink. In Hungary we say “Egészségedre”, which means “to your health”. It is quite a mouthful, and is pronounced: “eh-geh-sheg-ed-reh”. You may want to practice it a few times before saying it in the open, but you will absolutely dazzle Hungarians if you are able to say this correctly!