News Opinions/Publications The His­to­ry of Hun­gar­i­an Beer

The His­to­ry of Hun­gar­i­an Beer

The beer scene in Hun­gary is more excit­ing than ever because of the ongo­ing excite­ment of the Hun­gar­i­an craft beer rev­o­lu­tion. But the his­to­ry of beer brew­ing in Hun­gary goes back to the nomadic Mag­yars, who like­ly learned how to use hops, bar­ley, and malt to brew beer from the Slavs. A will from 1152 request­ing a beer bur­ial feast is the ear­li­est Hun­gar­i­an doc­u­ment men­tion­ing beer. In ancient times beer wasn’t drunk for its taste or alco­hol con­tent. It was (sup­pos­ed­ly) drunk for its health ben­e­fits and heal­ing prop­er­ties. Until the 14th cen­tu­ry beer was only made at home, but then monas­ter­ies began seri­ous­ly pro­duc­ing it and brew­eries with attached beer halls opened. Guilds were devel­oped around this time in Hun­gary. But until the 16th cen­tu­ry, when brew­ers orga­nized their own guilds, every­one still had the right to brew their own beer at home. of

The beer indus­try in Hun­gary real­ly start­ed to devel­op in the 1840s when a law made it pos­si­ble again for any­one to brew, sell, and import beer. In 1845 the first com­mer­cial brew­ery was built in Pest by a brew­er named Peter Schmidt and he stored his beer in the Kőbánya neigh­bor­hood in Budapest’s tenth dis­trict. His­tor­i­cal­ly, Kőbánya was a vast lime­stone quar­ry (which is what its name means) that sup­plied the stone used to build many of Budapest’s build­ings. “The hey­day of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an Empire, and the expan­sion of Budapest, set the scene for the growth of lager brew­ing,” wrote beer jour­nal­ist Michael Jack­son. “In Kőbánya, six brew­eries rose.” It turned out that the mas­sive under­ground cav­erns in the neigh­bor­hood were ide­al for fer­ment­ing and stor­ing beer because of their steady cool tem­per­a­tures. Brew­ers also dis­cov­ered high-qual­i­ty water under the old quar­ries, and Kőbánya soon became known as “beer city”.

These days, the ‘craft beer rev­o­lu­tion‘ has shak­en things up in Hun­gary, and many small brew­eries (and now some larg­er ones) have cre­at­ed a craft beer com­mu­ni­ty and a craft beer scene that is becom­ing known inter­na­tion­al­ly. There’s hard­ly a block in down­town Budapest which doesn’t have at least one pub with a great craft beer selection.


The Dreher fam­i­ly had been mak­ing beer for gen­er­a­tions in Ger­many before Franz Anton Dreher was born in 1735. Dreher moved to Vien­na where he mar­ried a fel­low brew­er. They rent­ed a brew­ery, brewed brown beer, and in 1796 they bought the Klein-Schwechat Brew­ery. After Dreher died, his son (also named Anton, which is Antal in Hun­gar­i­an) lat­er took over the busi­ness and fur­ther devel­oped it. He grew his own hops and bar­ley, was one of the first brew­ers to use mech­a­niza­tion, and built the first Vien­nese beer hall. Dreher’s biggest achieve­ment, how­ev­er, was switch­ing from top-fer­ment­ed beer to bot­tom-fer­ment­ed beer. Leg­end has it that he trav­eled around Britain using a spe­cial­ly devised walk­ing stick to steal beer sam­ples. Dreher is cred­it­ed with cre­at­ing the Vien­nese lager-style beer (bot­tom-fer­ment­ed at low tem­per­a­tures) in 1841, and for this he was called “the beer king”. Mean­while, in 1848 anoth­er impor­tant Hun­gar­i­an brew­ery was found­ed by Lipót Hirschfeld, the Péc­si Brew­ery in Pécs, which today is one of the four big brew­eries in Hungary.

In 1862 Dreher bought the brew­ery in Kőbánya, but didn’t live to see any beer brewed there. His son (yet anoth­er Anton) con­tin­ued the fam­i­ly busi­ness, which now includ­ed brew­eries in Mich­e­lob (a town in Bohemia) and Tri­este (which is now in Italy). Under him, Kőbánya became the largest brew­ery in Hun­gary and was pro­duc­ing 1.2 mil­lion hec­to­liters of beer by 1890. Around this time, anoth­er impor­tant brew­ery was found­ed in Sopron by Gyu­la Lenck and the Brünn Brew­ery. Back then it was called the First Sopron Brew­ery and Malt Fac­to­ry, but today it’s called Heineken Hun­garia Brew­eries and remains one of the country’s largest. One of Anton’s sons, Eugen Dreher (who became known as Jenő in Hun­gar­i­an), man­aged the Kőbánya Brew­ery and it became a sep­a­rate Hun­gar­i­an cor­po­ra­tion in 1907.

Jenő enlarged the com­pa­ny and the Kőbánya facil­i­ties, but even­tu­al­ly sold all of his oth­er brew­eries. After World War Two Jenő had restart­ed pro­duc­tion and had more or less restored the com­pa­ny when it was nation­al­ized in 1948. He died the fol­low­ing year and the long line of Drehers in the beer busi­ness came to an end. The Dreher Brew­ery in Kőbánya then merged with sev­er­al oth­er brew­eries which became col­lec­tive­ly known as the Kőbányai Sör­gyár and sup­plied Hun­gary with 90 per­cent of its beer dur­ing the Com­mu­nist era. Hungary’s oth­er big brew­ery, the Bor­so­di Sör­gyár, began brew­ing in 1973 in Bőcs, a town in north­ern Hun­gary. In 1993 the Dreher brew­eries were acquired by the South African Brew­eries (SAB) group (then SAB­Miller), and since in 2017 it has been owned by Asahi, Japan’s largest beer pro­duc­er. Of course the brew­ery has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly mod­ern­ized, but its art nou­veau style has remained.

You can taste Dreher beer at most pubs in Hun­gary, and you can tour the brew­ery your­self to learn about Hun­gar­i­an brew­ing his­to­ry and Dreher’s big con­tri­bu­tion to it. The Dreher Brew­ery cov­ers an area of some 30 acres in Kőbánya, about a half an hour tram ride from Bla­ha Lujza tér. There’s a lit­tle beer muse­um, and you can sign up for a brew­ery tour (book­ing in advance is usu­al­ly required). The brew­ery itself was built between 1910 and 1920 in eclec­tic style. It has a 30-kilo­me­ter-long cel­lar sys­tem. With its art nou­veau Zsol­nay tiles, fan­cy plas­ter mold­ing, and big cop­per-topped tanks, it claims to be one of Europe’s most beau­ti­ful breweries.

Source : taste​hun​gary​.com