Drinking Culture

In parallel with a burgeoning food culture, Hungarian wine-making has experienced a revival in the post-communist era (since the 1990s). Despite its relatively small geographic size, globally Hungary ranks as the 15th largest wine producer, with 22 unique wine regions. Sweet wines from the Tokaj region are the most well known outside of the country, possibly you are already familiar with them. Tokaji wines can boast about several high-profile fans over the centuries, including Louis XIV and Thomas Jefferson (Tokaji Aszu was the most expensive wine Jefferson ever bought). However, there are a host of high-quality alternatives to Tokaji, in both red and white varieties.

At Kadarka Bar and DiVino, wine bars in central Budapest, you can sample over 140 types of Hungarian wine.

Besides Tokaj, the southern Villány wine region is the most popular within the country, followed by Eger. Fine wines are also produced at smaller vineyards in Szekszárd, Badacsony and the Northern Balaton region. If you want to try something local, Furmint and Hárslevelű (white), and Kadarka (red) are made from grapes indigenous to Hungary.

In restaurants, bottles of Hungarian wine in the range of €13-17 (HUF4,000-5,000) are unlikely to leave you disappointed, and most wines above €17 are considered high quality vintages.

Wine may hold a special place within the heart of Hungarians, but several fledgling microbreweries are working to give it a run for its title by producing craft beers that may change local preferences. Élesztő and Jónás Craft Beer House, brewpubs located in District 9, are both inviting place to sample (largely Hungarian) craft beers served on draft.

If you're looking for something of a stronger vein, give Unicum a try. Typically drunk as a digestif or apéritif, Unicum is a herbal liquor made from a secret formula containing more than forty types of herbs. Initially prepared for the Habsburg Emperor in an effort to aid his digestive problems, the company was created in 1790. Presently the company is again owned by ancestors of the original founders (the Zwack family) after a tumultuous ownership history during communism. There is a Zwack Museum and the Unicum production plant in Budapest if you are interested in visiting. You can read more about the family’s fascinating history here.

The other national drink in Hungary (aside from Unicum) is pálinka. A fruit brandy made from plum, apricot, pear, or cherry, pálinka production dates back to the Middle Ages. First time users beware, this concoction can knock you off your feet before you know it, particularly home-made varieties.