Hungarians like a good drink, and the sociable culture that this feeds into is one of the big draw factors for expats looking to make a new life for themselves here. Whatever your tipple, you’re bound to find it in one of the many bars of Budapest and in towns and cities all over Hungary. And if you’re keen to try something unique to Hungary, you’ve got plenty to choose from as well.
Pálinka is a type fruit brandy that has been produced in Hungary for many hundreds of years and is considered a national drink. While similar versions of the liquor can be found in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and other Balkans countries, due to the EU’s geographical indication rules, pálinka can only be called so if it was produced here in Hungary.
It is made by fermenting local fruits such as plums, apricots, apples, pears, and cherries and distilling the resulting mash. Pálinka should be enjoyed at room temperature from a small glass. Whether you shot it - remembering to slam the glass down after - or instead sip and savour is up to you, you’ll find quite some debate on this matter.
If you want to try some yourself, look for bottles from award winning breweries like Nobilis, Etyeki Czímeres, Agárdi, Tarpa, Kisrét and Zwack. Pálinka can be found in just about any alcohol selling shop in Budapest, at just about every bar and through some specialist suppliers as well.
And if you’re feeling brave, we recently published a guide to making your own palinka.
Unicum is Hungary’s other national drink, produced by Zwack and invented by its namesake Dr. József Zwack. It’s a dark herbal liqueur and could be described as a somewhat more bitter version of Jagermeister. It’s made from a secret recipe of 40 herbs and spices and many Hungarians have a love or hate relationship with the drink.
The company has a long history and at times a turbulent one. It fell under state ownership after WWII and the Zwack family fled to Italy with the recipe leaving the Hungarian factory to produce a less-delicious alternative. Luckily, Peter Zwack a fourth-generation member of the family brought back the company in 1989 and restarted production using the original recipe.
Unicum, along with its sister drink Unicum Silva and Unicum Next, can be found in many bars and shops around Budapest and should be sipped or taken as a shot from a small glass. Drunk chilled, it can be easier on the palate, and it can also be enjoyed in long drinks as well.
Wine and fröccs
Hungary has a great reputation as a wine producer, even if it does get somewhat ignored by the masses in favour of those produced in Italy, France and Spain. Recently, we wrote an extensive guide to enjoying wine in Hungary. In summary, there are lots of different varieties than can be found in bars and shops all over Budapest, or by taking a trip to one of the popular wine regions of Hungary such as Eger, Balaton or Tokaj.
Fröccs is the Hungarian version of wine spritzer and is a popular summer drink for just about everyone. It all dates back to when Hungarian inventor Ányos Jedlik devised a way to create carbonated water on mass and supposedly poured the world’s first fröccs in 1842.
There are multiple types of fröccs depending on your ratio of wine to water, and a number of fruit flavoured ones as well. You can find it in just about any bar in Hungary and if you’re with friends you can get the full experience by buying a soda dispenser and a bottle of wine and mixing yourself at the table. Said supplies can obviously be picked up at the supermarket as well - if you want to enjoy at home.