Hungary has always had more of a wine culture, but microbrewers are changing things.
Gerilla beer, experimental beer, extreme beer, community beer, microbrews – whatever it’s called, something’s brewing in Budapest.
“Guys who picked up home-brewing techniques through the internet are suddenly making the finest drafts. It’s never quite what you expect, not like with a bottle of the big brands you buy in a shop,” says Imre Tóth, one of the people behind what he calls the beer movement of the post-Millennium years.
Co-owner of Élesztő (Yeast), an oasis for beer geeks in Budapest’s District IX, Tóth tells the Budapest Business Journal how the movement grew.
“It all started when some of us got tired of the rules of the game: That every pub that operated in Budapest signed up with a big beer wholesaler, and in return for the distributor’s multi-million-forint support, they were tied to that brand. We wanted something else, independence, without funding from the big labels, the opportunity to try something new.”
Élesztő was one of the first bars to let go of the support of the big beer manufacturers – so it had the freedom to sell whatever kind of beer it wanted – and others followed suit a few years later. “Our business model worked. What seemed like a disadvantage in competition at first ended up putting you ahead in the game within a few months,” Tóth said about the start of what he now calls a concept pub. Along with selling the beers, he also is involved in distribution of microbrews.
Although Élesztő and other creative caterers with like-minded beer menus are often off the regular pub-crawl maps, tourists who are into the “movement” will be drawn to these places, whose charm is also in being among the locals.
“We don’t advertise. We don’t want to end up in Lonely Planet or something similar, although sometimes you can’t avoid it. After the Guardian wrote about us we did get swathes of tourists. But mainly it’s word-of-mouth. What we can offer people who come in is a certain guaranteed quality. While we like to experiment with new brews all the time, you will not find bad beers here,” Tóth explains his quality control strategy.
Cozy Élesztő has expanded over the two years since its opening, and Tóth and his team have added a food bar to the offering. But the 17 types of small-scale brews on tap in a suitably industrial type of setting remains the main attraction.
A new location is opening near Keleti (Eastern) railway station soon and Tóth’s team has just bid successfully to run Budapest Marriott Hotel’s new bar on the Danube embankment. They also keep tabs on what the brewers are up to, organizing beer festivals and tasters everywhere.
“We are very happy to be moving into the fifth district, where there are not so many good bars,” he says. But Hungary is a very small market and Tóth says his beers are already flowing beyond the borders.
“We are inventive and London, the United States and Mexico like this and buy our beers,” he adds.