Hungary is wine country, but it has a long tradition of brewing as well, with the legendary name of Dreher — as in Anton — the brand of one of the country’s best-known pale lagers. Unfortunately, finding good craft beer from the country’s small producers is tricky. Just about everywhere you go, you’ll come across Dreher (part of SABMiller) and Soproni (a Heineken brand). But great local beer? Microbrews? Not so easy to spot.
We spent most of the last two weeks in Hungary, first at Lake Balaton, then in Budapest, where we I finally found a couple of interesting beers. Or at least, what looked like interesting beers. My Hungarian is limited to the five words most commonly found on restaurant menus, but when I saw the sign above, I was pretty sure that “házi” might be something like “domácí” in Czech, the equivalent of “house-made,” and I knew that “sör” meant beer. So I picked up a bottle of each brew: a világos, or pale, called Gutberger, and a barna, or dark, called Braunger.
Both come from the Szögedi Sörfőzde, which says it was established in 1993. Both were bombshell-shaped plastic (PET) containers of 1 liter, or just about two pints. Each cost the equivalent of $1.50.
Unfortunately, the packaging and price turned out to be the high points of the bottles from Szögedi Sörfőzde. The dark Braunger had a decent appearance of clear amber with thick-set beige foam. There were some light cola flavors in the mouth, as well as a touch of gingery spice, and I detected some not-so-fun cardboard flavors in the finish. That was still better than the Gutberger, which poured a very light gold with an industrially white foamy head that immediately died. The Gutberger’s nose was only slightly grainy, and there was no discernible hop aroma or flavor. Or any other aromas or flavors of any kind.
It brought to mind Jean-Pierre Van Roy’s proclamation about industrial beers: like him, I would rather drink a good industrial beer than a bad artisanal beer, and in this case I’d rather have a glass of SABMiller’s Dreher (not a bad pale lager) or a dark Soproni Démon, which I quite liked, regardless of how much I want to support small producers.
And of course Hungary does have better craft beer producers: there’s the Gyertyános brewery at Miskolc, which has a great reputation among Hungarian foodies, and which was part of the V3 Rauchbier miracle produced in conjunction with Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf and Slovakia’s Kaltenecker. There is also Budapest’s “Only Good Beers!” store, Csak a jó sör!, which sells La Chouffe and other international specialities which are not found even in beer-loving countries like the Czech Republic.
When I return to Hungary, I’ll keep looking for good local brews. But I’ll probably settle for my favorite discovery from this last trip: a few bottles of cserszegi fűszeres, a lovely indigenous white wine, from an excellent local producer like Jásdi. “Only Good Beers” is a great name for a beer store. But sometimes good wines will have to do.