Budapest has long been one of Europe’s top party cities, with its famous ruin pubs and late-night bars where a pint, shot or glass of wine often costs less than a pound. Right now, the city is undergoing a craft beer revolution; not just bars devoted to ales but microbreweries opening across the country and a young generation of “Gypsy brewers” conjuring up new recipes at home, renting brewery space and creating intriguing beers. Prices remain very reasonable – £1-£1.50 for roughly a pint of draught – and the highlight of the year is Főzdefeszt, a three-day festival celebrating Hungarian beers and street food. It is expected that 40,000 beer enthusiasts will attend from 5-7 June, though if you can’t be there our selection should help give you a “head” start on any future visits.
Élesztő Craftbeer Garden
Élesztő, or “Yeast”, is a must-see; a rambling post-industrial space that was once a glassworks. It resembles the city’s famous ruin pubs but has successfully moved with the times and offers not just the biggest choice of draught Hungarian artisan ales (21 different taps) but tasty, cheap food, a cosy cafe for hot chocolate and cakes, a healthfood juice bar and beer-tasting and brewing classes. The latest innovation is a beer-cocktail bar run by mixologist Gábor Németh, who stirs creations such as Éden, a startling combination of lemon juice, lavender and honey syrup, Tanqueray, a dash of bitters and American Beauty pale ale, garnished with a lemon pill, chocolate truffle, juniper and hops.
• Tűzoltó utca 22 +36 70 233 5052, elesztohaz.hu. Open daily 3pm-3am
The heart of Budapest’s nightlife scene is the Gozsdu Courtyard, lined with bars, bistrots and clubs. On a quiet parallel street is Léhűtő 1 and 2, two adjoining bars that just lack a connecting door. Kolos Kósa, a craft-beer fanatic, opened Léhűtő when he was organising the first Főzdefeszt, and currently, he explains, indicating a huge map on the bar’s wall: “The choice for beer-lovers is incredible, with around 50 artisan microbreweries dotted round Hungary producing over 200 different craft beers.” With around 60 brews to choose from, it is difficult to know where to start, but Kolos recommends at least tasting Fekete Erdő (Black Forest), a porter using forest fruit and four types of malt, Keserű Méz (Bitter Honey), a lager that actually has a bitter honey, ale-like taste, and Vörösbegy (Red Robin), a delicious caramel malt brew.
• Holló utca 12-14,+36 30 731 0430, Facebook page. Open Sun-Tues 4pm-midnight, Wed-Thurs 4pm-2am, Fri-Sat 4pm-6am
Jónás Craft Beer House
You can’t miss the giant whale-like glass and metal Bálna building on the edge of the Danube just by the Liberty bridge. It lay empty – for political reasons – for several years, more white elephant than whale, but finally opened 18 months ago, with a new craft-beer bar, aptly named Jónás. While the Bálna still seems half-empty, Jónás is booming, especially its sunny waterside terrace, a summer venue for concerts, beer and street-food parties. The owner, Zoli Reketye-Trifán, has his own microbrewery just outside town, and guests sit under a mural explaining how beer is brewed. Reketye-Trifán recently won a prize for his Shifty Beaver, a creamy, hoppy American brown ale, and several “Gypsy brewers” are on the drinks list, including the present flavour-of-the-day Monkey Funky Yeah, a hazy amber sour wheat beer brewed by Hara’Punk.
• Fővám tér 11, +36 30 447 0637, balnabudapest.hu. Open Mon-Thurs 9am-11.45pm, Fri-Sat 9am-2am, Sun 9am-11pm
Csak a jó sör
The name of this unique bar says it all: Only Good Beer. And the snug shop-cum-salon is like coming into your friend’s home, sinking into the sofa, then deciding which beer to pour – except Kővári Gergely happens to have 300 different bottles lining the shelves. This is an institution for beer aficionados and Gergely has been brewing his own since 2009, joking that: “The difficult part of my job is that I try every beer, so I am sure I really do like it before I sell it.” Although he is a pioneer of the local beer revolution, he also stocks ales from around the world. Don’t miss his latest creation, Deep Throat, a creamy 8.8% foreign stout whose smooth aftertaste comes from a final addition of cane sugar. No food is served here and it closes at 9pm – much earlier than most Budapest watering holes.
• Kertész utca 42, +36 30 251 4737, csakajosor.hu. Open Mon-Sat 2pm-9pm
Kandalló Artisanal Pub
Almost opposite Csak a jó sör, this is the perfect next stop on an evening pub crawl because this cool, fashionable bar also serves thick, juicy burgers or a delicious sharing platter of every Hungarian sausage imaginable. The choice of bottled beers is small, but 16 Hungarian craft brews are on draught, including Black Raven, a milk stout, and Kaltenecker Kras, a rare craft lager brewed just across the border in Slovakia. If you want a change from artisan ales, Kandalló also serves organic Hungarian wines, creative cocktails and the lethal end of many a Budapest evening, Pálinka fruit brandies. In summer it opens a lively outdoor beer garden, Kandalló Kert, just around the corner (Klauzál utca 17).
• Kertész utca 33, +36 1 788 3568, kandallopub.hu. Open Mon-Thurs 4pm-midnight, Fri 4pm-3am, Sat midday-3am, Sun midday-midnight
The distinctive Legenda label is the one brand you will find in every bar, as this dynamic Budapest microbrewery is leading the way in innovative craft ales, offering 38 different brews, with some very funky names: James’ brown ale, Pokerface pale ale, an American IPA called Snakebite, or a seriously strong 12% barley wine christened Horse Juice. Pretty much all its beers are on the menu here in its own pub, a cavernous underground locale with live music at the weekends. Although Legenda’s ales are predominantly hoppy it also makes oddball beers such as Brettannia, sour like the Belgian Rodenbach, or the rye Bazooka, which has a surprising smoky bacon aroma.
• Szlovák út 116, +36 20 942 2747, legendesorfozde.hu. Open Mon-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-2am, Sun midday-10pm
Josef Rizmajer is very much the godfather of Budapest artisan ales, setting up a microbrewery underneath his house back in 1994. Not only does he make some of Hungary’s finest craft beers, he has led the way in collaborating with young Gypsy brewers, giving them the chance to come and create their own beers in his brewery. A trip to his Beerhouse is definitely for beer fanatics as it is a half-hour tram/train trek into the suburbs. But the tourists who make it out get a warm welcome, there is a beer garden and the chance to try zsiroskenyér, Hungary’s favourite bar snack: a slice of bread thickly spread with pork lard topped with raw onions. Rizmajer admits: “I am a malt rather than hop fanatic. I always wanted to make my own Guinness, but I never liked the bitterness, so instead I made a sweeter porter stout, and even a chocolate stout, where cocoa beans soaked in alcohol are added into the mix.” Not to be missed is Cortez, his unique corn beer that Budapest’s many burger and Mexican restaurants are stocking instead of Corona.
• Tancsics Mihály utca 110, +36 1 277 2395, Facebook page. Open daily 7am-11pm
Hopfanatic Brew Pub
On a pretty square just off the city’s famed Andrássy Avenue, a narrow entrance takes you down to a maze-like tunnel bar that showcases the beers of independent brewer Hopfanatic, whose grizzly hop logo looks more like a genetically-modified Jolly Green Giant. This is a no-frills, serious beer-drinkers spot, with long communal wooden tables, 10 taps and 50-60 bottled ales to choose from. Tamás Kiss started the microbrewery and pub in 2013 and admits he is obsessed with making hoppy IPA – one IPA is even called No Hop Limit. “But we do also brew White Hops, which is like a German weissbier,” he explains, “a serious porter, which at 12% is the strongest stout in Hungary, and a light summery American pale ale called Alulu, where grated coconut is added to the fermentation.” For newcomers to craft beer, try the tasting tray of five different beers for just £2.
• Hunyadi tér 11, no phone or website. Open Mon-Sat 3pm-2am, Sun 3pm-midnight
Neked csak Dezső!
Normally any bar around the Jewish quarter tends to draw tourists like a magnet. But this funky locale, almost opposite the monumental Great Synagogue, only opened six months ago and hasn’t made the guidebooks yet, so the clientele is local students and hipsters. Named after a banned Communist-era film, Dezső stocks 30 Hungarian craft beers by the bottle with eight on tap. You’ll find some weird rare brews, such as the intensely bitter Horizont Japán Búza made with the Sorachi Ace hop, a strange smoked rye IPA called Xmoke, the wonderfully named Ale Capone made from five different malts, but also a refreshing unfiltered lager, Fóti Zwickl, for a change from all the hoppy ales.
• Dohány utca 7, +36 20 565 3790, Facebook page. Open Sun-Tues 4pm-midnight, Weds-Sat 4pm-2am
Márton Csupor is the rising new star of the Budapest craft-beer scene. Still in his early 20s, he began experimenting with recipes at home before Legenda allowed him to join its growing rank of Gypsy brewers a year ago. In March 2015 his Bunny Hop won the “Gold Medal Pale Ale” at the prestigious Alltech beer festival in Dublin, and on returning to Budapest he immediately opened his own pub, currently the hottest spot in town. This tiny hole-in-the-wall, split-level bar has no decoration, and a kitsch half-timbered facade, but is often packed. “It is meant to close at midnight, but we never get the crowds out till 2am,” says Csupor, “and I’m getting worried I can’t supply enough beer.” He also brews the very hoppy Tántorgó Pár IPA, the “groggy horse”, the ryemeal ThermoSTOUT, and WHEATathatatlan, a delicious wheat beer with coriander and orange peel.
• Dessewffy utca 5, no phone, Facebook page. Open Mon-Thurs 5pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am.
Flights were provided by easyJet, which flies to Budapest from Gatwick, with fares from £38.49 one-way. Train travel takes about 24 hours using Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Munich and overnight sleeper to Budapest.