When compared to other Central European countries like Germany or the Czech Republic, Hungary doesn’t really rank high on the list of countries famed for its craft beer – for now, that is.
Over the past few years, there has been a new revolution of craft beer in Budapest, and the District 9 Craft Beer festival over the weekend testifies to this hoppy change. If you missed out, don’t worry – the bars are still there!
New Lease of Life in the IX District
The IX District is one of the most interesting areas in Budapest, at least for me anyway. Its converted industrial buildings spanning its streets from the Danube to Ülloi Street gives the place an exciting urban feel. While the VII District has become the city’s party centre and the VIII District is slowly catching up in its gentrification, the IX District is changing in a different way. Rather than trying to become a party haven, it’s instead seeing a reinvention on a cultural and gastronomical level that enhances its local flavour. New projects like the theatre district down by Lágymányos Bridge and the futuristic Bálna arts centre focusses more on the district’s cultural life, but the real interesting part of this district comes its specialised bar culture which doesn’t aim to compete with the VII, but rather has its own unique profile.
The Revolution of Craft Beer in Budapest
One of the main pioneers of craft beer in Budapest grew first out of Főzdefest, a craft beer festival. After which the ruins of a former glass making factory saw a new injection of life when Élesztő set up its first taps and became a must-stop place for beer lovers looking for good, local Hungarian craft beer. While the bar celebrated its 3rd birthday this weekend, today there are 18 craft beer bars in the space of 1999 metres with 99 types of craft beer on tap – and that’s just in the IX District (there are other places in town too)! Naming the IX District the “Craft Beer District” is not just clever marketing, but pretty accurate for its density of bar serving beers for the true connoisseur.
The Grand Tour
The festival took place over the weekend, starting Friday night. For those who can handle their beer (I can’t!), maps were available at each bar, where a beer in each bar was awarded with a stamp. Collect all 18 and magic happens, although I am not quite sure what the prize is for this drinking achievement – but a couple of my friends succeeded in collecting them all.
They started at 4pm, but I could only join after 6.30 (and only made it to 4 bars) and met them at our first port of call.
Jonás Kézműves Sörház
Located on the banks of the Danube, it’s hard to miss the famous Bálna arts centre. It’s name translates literally as “the whale” since it resembles a glass whale of some sorts. Its futuristic look meant it was even used as the set for NASA in the recent sci-fi film “The Martian”, but for now we’re all about that beer.
Set on its terrace, Jonás is a fun beer house where you can get some great Hungarian craft beer in Budapest with views of the Danube, and if you’re hungry you can find some good street food here, not to mention the staff here are hilarious with a great sense of humour. Also, if you have friends who are not a fan of beer, you can find many alternatives here, so everyone is happy!
Fővam Tér 11
Quite a hike up from Jonás into the outer part of the IX District above the Grand Boulevard, but the plan was to go outwards and work our way back inwards into the map. Importer is a craft beer bar launched by Élesztő specialising (as you might guess from the name) in imported beer. We found an interesting collection of international beers, including some great soured beers, which are a personal favourite of mine (and an acquired taste). The atmosphere here is cosy, and if you’re interested in trying out more unusual international beers, this is a good stop!
Tompa utca 17
Located round the corner from Importer, Élesztő is perhaps the best known craft beer place in Budapest. Coinciding with the District 9 event, it also celebrated its 3rd birthday, but judging by its surge in popularity over the recent years, it’s gone on to prove that Budapest needed a craft beer scene. Tonight, the special beer of choice was a London-style cask ale brewed in Hungary.
Each time I come back to this bar it seems to get busier and busier, and understandably so, but sometimes big crowds can get too much and we moved onto a smaller, more intimate place.
Tűzoltó utca 22
At this point I was ready to go home, but my friends persuaded me to have one more drink (always a dangerous promise, but this time I kept it). Pepin is a small, cute bar round the corner, with a few good local beers on tap and other interesting Hungarian beers available by the bottle. It had the feel of your local favourite hangout and quite a contrast to the scale and crowds found at Élesztő. Pepin also celebrated its birthday, but tonight it was only 1 year old, and while it might not have had the bells and whistles next door, the atmosphere was familial and the beer was good.
Tompa utca 26
I quite frankly didn’t have the stomach to ingest as much craft beer as the boys, who continued on their mission to collect all stamps, so I went home, but even looking at the density of the map, there is no shortage of a place to go for all the beers. If you want to check out Budapest’s craft beer scene, Budapest Local does a great craft beer tour which will take you round some of the best spots. You can also see more on the District 9 Facebook page (in Hungarian, but you can see more of the places available).
Photos from Facebook or Élesztő’s press office.