Before having a go at the Hungarian beer industry, it is worth mentioning that the oldest traces of beer consuming were found in the Nile valley, on the territory of Sudan, in a 7000 year-old pot with beer remains. During that time, beer was really the “liquid bread” because the barley-bread was soaked in water, fermented and flavoured. It was consumed both filtered and unfiltered. The drink became so popular that Hammurabi’s laws defined the quality criteria in Mesopotamia. Later in the Roman provinces, beer made of fermented barley-juice spread increasingly – but it did not include hop yet. According to the legend, medieval monks added it for the first time in order to flavour the drink. Beer was a popular drink in monasteries, because monks could only have liquid during fasting and beer was able to ease their hardship. After the Middle Ages, mass brewing started: guilds became breweries, and then factories were formed. In Hungary, the first written record that mentions the habit of beer-drinking is from 1152.
One of the oldest breweries of Hungary is the Brewery of Pécs (Pécsi Sörfőzde). Brewing began in the 14th century in Pécs; they already used the waters of the Mecsek Mountains as a basic material. Beer had a role in restraining epidemics several times during history, as it was safer – and tastier – than unboiled well-water. The critical periods from this aspect were the decades after the expulsion of Ottomans from Pécs and later the period of the plague. In 1702, Leopold I allowed the town to support the local spital from the tax levied on beer. Sámuel Hirschfeld founded a factory from the town brewery in 1848. It operated under the name Pannónia Sörfőző Rt. (Pannónia Brewing Co.) as of 1911, and in 1993 the Austrian Ottakringer-Wenckheim Company took it over. Its most famous products are Szalon and Pécsi Sör that is made of malt, hop and karst-water of Mecsek according to a recipe from 1923.
The Dreher Breweries Co. of Kőbánya also has a historical past and it is one of the largest beer-producers in Hungary. As a comparison, it is worth mentioning that the oldest recorded brewery in Budapest, the First Brewer House of Pest, was opened in 1687 owing to the Bavarian Jakab Proberger. (Naturally, brewing was a popular activity even in the 17th century, mainly in the form of home brewing and in manors. The beer regulation of Pest of 1843 declares that anybody can brew beer inconditionally, provided that the beer tax is paid.) Back to the Drehers: Franz Anton Dreher founded the brewing dynasty, when he bought the Klein- Schwechat Town Beer House in 1796. His son carried on the paternal heritage. Antal Dreher Sr., the “beer-king”, acquired a lot of experiences, new recipes and new techniques during his study tours. He bought up his big rival Péter Schmidt’s brewery, the Brewing Company of Kőbánya that was founded in 1854, and established the Dreher Brewery. Anyway, Schmidt made experiments to get very good beer finally; the “lagerbier” was made of well-water of Kőbánya and was post-fermented in the cellars of Kőbánya – and Dreher picked up on that. Brewing is still going on in the building constructed in 1854. It is considered an industry historical curiosity that can be visited in the frame of factory tours.
When Antal Dreher Jr. took over the wheel of the factory, the Dreher became the largest beer factory of Hungary in 1890 (during this period minor firms went bankrupt one after the other). The last Dreher brewery owner, Jenő Dreher transformed the factory into a corporation first and then into an independent Hungarian firm. He went on expanding by merging his rival breweries. In 1933, the Dreher-Haggenmacher Brewery Co. had almost 70 percent of the beer-market (the family Haggenmacher was also a brewing dynasty and was connected to the Drehers by marriage). Dreher became a beer brand known all over the world from Africa to Asia. However, the nationalisation of 1948 wound up the family assets in Hungary and the grandiose company was incorporated. The Dreher descendants gave up brewing and the factory could not have the family name Dreher either until the 1990s, when it became Dreher Breweries Co. again. Between 1993 and 2016, the company was run by the South-African and American SABMiller, the second-largest beer-producing company in the world. Its famous products are: Dreher Classic, based on Antal Dreher Sr.’s recipe that won a gold medal at the World’s Fair of Paris in 1900, and the others: Arany Ászok, Kozel and Kőbányai Sör.
The Sopron brewery (presently called Heineken Hungaria Breweries Ltd.) alias the First Sopron Brewery and Malt Factory was opened in 1895 by beer merchants of Brno. Sopron has an almost 500 year-old beer culture. According to records, the local beer sales were regulated as early as 1523: it was forbidden to draw beer after 8 pm. Let’s return to the 20th century: products of Sopron were traded as of 1902, and their popularity grew continuously. However, this factory could not avoid nationalisation either in the middle of the century. It got back its self-dependence after 30 years, and it has bought several foreign licences since the 1980s (Steffl, Gösser). In 1997, it merged with the First Hungarian Cooperatives’ Brewery in Martfű, and it has been a member of the Dutch Heineken Group since 2003. The Heineken Hungaria considers environmental protection as a key priority during production. Both Hungarian factories accomplished modern sustainable technologies. They have their own waste-water treatment system: sludge is composted and reused in agriculture, and also generates biogas for satisfying their energy needs. The most famous beers of the factory are: Soproni (the former Soproni Ászok), Heineken and Zlatý Bažant.
The Borsod Brewery Ltd. of Bőcs was established in 1973, because beer consuming rose in the 1960s and ’70s, thus opening a new brewery was necessary. Two products were launched then: Borsodi Világos and Kinizsi. Similarly to the other large breweries in the second half of the 20th century, the Borsod factory was also a member of the Hungarian National Brewery Trust. It was the first to try the non-alcoholic beer that was a novelty back in 1987, called Borsodi Póló, and they started trading canned beer in 1995 – successfully. Since that time, all big breweries have been producing canned beer too. The factory was sold several times during the 1990s and now it is in American-Canadian ownership. The company considers environmentally conscious operation and waste-water treatment extremely important. The energetic utilization of the sludge during production was solved in 2006. The mass production of flavoured beers started in Hungary in 2011, and just like the Sopron Brewery, Borsod Brewery also launched its fruity beer palette range under the name Borsodi Friss. Besides its own products (Borsodi and Rákóczi), it produces Stella Artois and Beck’s by licences and trades Staropramen as well.
Naturally, there are minor beer-market participants that represent an important sector of the market: the craft beers of craft breweries, like the Artisan Brewery of Fót that makes general favourites. Another craft brewery Hedon of Balatonvilágos outgrew from a roaming brewery. The beer supply is huge: there are different types, flavours and colours, made by varied fermentation methods and alcohol contents. So if you don’t want to give a chance to kidney stones, take your daily vitamin B, copper, iron, zinc and magnesium needs in a good swig of ale.
Translated by Zita Aknai