Although our national anthem boasts of “Tokaj’s grapes”, small-scale manufactures of other alcoholic beverages, like beer or the traditional Hungarian pálinka, have always been equally significant.
Since some areas of the Hungarian spirit industry are considered somewhat more exotic in Central Europe, this article will introduce the lesser known Hungarian whisky and gin production.
Instead of mixing shots with beer, this time we examine pure spirits.
No longer an Anglo-Saxon privilege
Whisky was traditionally considered the drink of the British Isles, from where the famous grain distillate went on to conquer the world. First it was exported to North America by emigrants; then, in the era of globalization, it gained popularity among almost every nation around the globe.
Although the characteristic amber-colored spirit has long been popular in Hungary, its production history is not very classy or glamorous. We can only talk about proper Hungarian whisky production from the 2010s onwards, as the first people jumping into making whisky were previously engaged in distilling pálinka. So, official Hungarian whisky only came to existence during the past decade.
Hungarian whisky makers did not have to start experimenting from ground zero. Thanks to centuries-old culture of spirits, access to high-quality grains, and experience and infrastructure for wine and pálinka production, knowledge and aptitude was already available, and was incorporated by several Hungarian whisky brands.
At the mention of Gemenc, the region’s rich forest wildlife comes to mind for most Hungarians. Curiously, one of the first whiskey distilleries of the country is also situated there, in Pörböly.
The company takes rules of tradition very strictly, as they can only call their product “whiskey” by meeting these requirements. An example is that Gemenc Whiskey only uses barrels made of oak from the Zemplén woods for its grain distillates and whiskey, maturing them for a minimum of 3 years.
The manufacturer is one of the first master distillers to blaze the trail for Hungarian whiskey making. You may browse their products on their website.
Békési Single Barrel
The Békési Pálinkafőzde is situated on the other side of the country. They encourage sneak-peeks into pálinka production, showcase distilling from mash, and offer tastings of their many products.
Their whiskey selection consists of a 12-year-old and an 18-year-old spirit. They are also strong devotees of tradition, aging their distillate strictly in oak barrels. They entered the Hungarian market with Irish- and Scottish-style whiskies.
The third most notable Hungarian whisky producer is located on the shore of Lake Velence. The distillery is primarily engaged in making pálinka, and is a supporter of aging the distillate from high-quality grains in oak barrels.
Their product recommendation promises a drink with fruity aromas, created from selected ingredients.
Gin in the bottle
Gin is a grain brandy that is flavored primarily with juniper berries. A variety of spices can be added to the drink, but juniper gives the unmistakable flavor that makes gin so popular, either by itself or mixed in a cocktail.
Gin originates from the Old Continent, probably the present-day Dutch territories, from where the drink went to England, and more sophisticated versions were developed there. Juniper was well-known in the early modern era; it was often used to flavor various distillates, since the production technology at that time was lacking refined and pure flavors.
The history of Hungarian gin is even shorter than that of local whiskey, but recently several master distillers have started experimenting with this popular spirit.
Entering the scene in 2018, the leader of Opera Gin converted to spirits from the world of wine making. Their philosophy is to create premium, high-quality beverages, and their gin meets all traditional English standards.
In addition to their main drink, Opera Gin, they also make vodka, and are available for a distillery tour, where you can get acquainted with the mysteries of gin production.
Búzavirág Gin got its name from the cornflower, and aside from its unique taste, the blue bottle also looks quite pleasing to the eye. Masters of the distillery in Györköny must have been inspired by the scattered blue flowers on grain fields, and worked out a gin of such character.
Their debut spirit of 2019 contains 24 ingredients, and has achieved the desired flavor harmony after a series of experiments. The namesake cornflower is not only an attribute of the label and brand, as the petals of the plant are also found in their gin.
Seven Hills Distillery Tokaj GIN
The last stop in our spirit tour is Tokaj, where the Seven Hills Distillery continues the traditional liquor-culture of the wine region in its own way. The company originally wanted to produce whisky, but later changed to distilling gin.
During the production of Tokaj GIN, great emphasis is placed on modern technologies and traditional high-quality local raw materials, as they proclaim in their mission statement. The company plans to enter the Hungarian market with further spirits in the future.
Our Spirit Bar offers a rich selection of gin and whisky from all over the world, and indeed, from our small country, as well…