Hoplager, the hoppy bitter of Central Europe

Hoplager: we could best describe this beer type as an early Hungarian analogue to the varieties originating from English brewing culture.

These bottom-fermented beers, specifically IPA types passing themselves as lagers – some call them India Pale Lager – are thriving in Hungary.

This article will detail the history, characteristics and possible international equivalents of this beer that shaped Hungarian taste; and tells the tale of its triumphant journey to the shelves of shops and taps of pubs.

A bittersweet history

We have already touched on some parts of Hungarian beer history: we have written about the beginnings, we walked through the reform era’s Pest, recalled times of war and peace, and took a look at the drunken days of the Communist regime.

We also remembered the beginnings of the Hungarian beer revolution with our co-founder Dániel Bart (as well as how Dani got the “beer fury”), and we published excerpts from his book about the ancient depths of alcohol consumption. The history of hoplager fits nicely into this picture.

Before the 2010s, Hungarian small-scale breweries were ailing. Although many people started to home-brew beer in the ’90s (as relevant laws allowed), the quality of these either did not reach the expected level, or fulfilled a very narrow, local demand without the possibility of further expansion.

Forrás: origo.hu

Moreover, the four dominant large corporations at the time (Heineken & Soproni, Dreher Breweries, Borsodi Brewery Co., and Pécs Brewery) also put a pressure on the beer market, discouraging people from brewing small-scale beer.

Brewers that survived and were eager to innovate first met their target audience on the 2010 Főzdefeszt (Hungarian Beer Festival). The rest is history: the Hungarian craft beer culture began to flourish and became a defining flavor of Budapester life. Hoplager beer was the product of taste-forming and creative processes of the 2010s.

This type of beer originated in the Fóti Craft Brewery, under the name of Keserű Méz (Bitter Honey), blending lager notes of lower-fermented beers with pronounced bitter hopping and a malty sweetness that was uncommon back then.

Forrás: beerporn.hu

The recipe quickly caught on as other breweries began to create their own hoplagers, satisfying people thirsty for craft beers – on a surprisingly great scale!

Corporations falling behind

The explosive growth of good craft beer production, the market niche, the growing demand and change in the winds altogether forced large manufacturers, who until then had a market divided between themselves almost without competitors, to rethink their strategies. The tastes of the public began to shift, and they started to expect something new from everything on tap.

Soproni was first to catch up with the Óvatos Duhaj (Sensible Bacchanalian) brand and series, which was then followed by other large breweries, according to their abilities and possibilities. Expectations for quality and specialty beers have increased considerably (not forgetting the ever-present Czech and German beer culture seeping into our small country).

Forrás: beerporn.hu

One beer favourite adapted for mass production was the Anglo-Saxon IPA, but hoplagers of Hungarian origin also grew in popularity, becoming a nationwide well-known variety.

Of course, this process benefited the entire Hungarian craft beer scene, as they possessed the flavor and know-how that large manufacturers would copy, and thanks to them, many emblematic craft beer types became part of the mainstream.

What is hoplager?

Searching the internet, it soon becomes clear that hoplager beers are missing from the international market. Analogues with hopping, strong hopping and similar character are present of course, but hoplager is not mentioned on the famous BJCP list.

Generally speaking, however, we can call Hungarian craft beers hoplagers if they are bottom-fermented, created by dry hopping with aroma hops, and typically use citrusy hops of American or Australian origin.

Forrás: fotisorfozde.hu

The bitter drink, consumed ice-cold by recommendation, is a real refreshment on a summer afternoon or at an eventful festival. On top of this, Keserű Méz has almost IPA-like strong malty notes. The typical alcohol level of this aromatic drink is between 5-7 percent.

If you are in the mood for hoplager…

The trailblazer Keserű Méz has already been mentioned above. MONYO and the Uradalmi Brewery also annually brew their Hop Harvest from fresh hops, while the Szent András Brewery provides an alternative for malt-loving hoplager fans with Magyar Vándor (Hungarian Vagabond).

Forrás: szentandrassorfozde.hu

The Etyek Beer Manufactory entered the market with Hip-Hopper, and the list goes on, presenting something new almost every year. Finally, we should not forget a major figure of Hungarian hops cultivation, Péter Lados, who supplies several Hungarian breweries with aromatic hops from Jászapáti, and contributes to the development of Hungarian beer culture from the supplier side.

Forrás: beerporn.hu

The hoplager story needs to quote a blog comment, as well: “If I had to give a definition at all costs, I would probably say that hoplagers are moderately strong (5-7%) lager beers that bring not only tartness but also aromas to the beer with a pronounced use of hops, in a less extreme way than American IPAs or APAs, based on more European hop aromas, preserving their strong malty character. The method of hopping itself is not specified.”

If you would like to learn more about hoplagers from our expert bartenders, or taste them with their guidance, visit us at Élesztőház, but first check out our Untappd website!