This last fall I lived in Budapest for four months. “Studying abroad” was a nice way to ease into dropping out of my university for a year to bum around Europe. So I spent these four months in Hungary learning about horticultural science and Hungarian language, and I also picked up a few things about the drinking in this fine land.

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Unlike many of the surrounding countries, Hungary is more of a wine nation than a beer nation. You can of course find amazing beers and special beerhouses, but the most common brands that you find in the convenience store, such as Arany Ászok, Dreher, etc are decent albeit pretty run of the mill. The most typical brews are lagers and German-style darker beers.

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Hungarians are very proud of their many, extremely varied wine regions, and with good reason.  Whether it’s the rich “Bull’s Blood” cuvée from Eger, a dry white wine from the volcanic mountains around Lake Balaton, or a sweet Tokaji Aszú, you’re sure to find something to like. Budapest also has a yearly wine festival at the Buda castle, which is worth going to if you can afford it and/or are a big wine buff. If you’re trying not to splurge, you can always go for the huge several liter bottles of cheap table wine sold at your nearest Spar or a cup of forralt bor (hot wine) around Christmas time at various cafes and outdoor markets, such as the one at Vörösmorty tér (pictured below!).


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But the Hungarians don’t stop at wine and beer. The most famous national spirit is pálinka, a distilled brandy made with anything from plums to pears to paprika. As with wine you can find the whole spectrum…from cheap fire water that will destroy your stomach to a really delicious brew meant for sipping. You can find a lot of commercial brands in the supermarkets, but if you can, get a hold of something by someone’s dad, grandpa, 70 year old neighbor, etc. Be careful, though, this stuff is absurdly strong and knocked even my most brawny German friends on their asses.

Be sure to try Unicum, a bitter herbal spirit reminiscent of Jaeger but much less sweet. I used to think it was disgusting, but a friend made me take a shot of it every time we went out and now I have fond memories attached to it. Plus the bottle is pretty cool. Hubertus is a similar liquor, but sweeter and less strong.

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The key to Hungarian booze is that there’s a lot of variation within simple categories. So start tasting and see what you like.

post by Jackie Clark