Inside Horizont: How is Craft Beer Made in Budapest?
The craft beer revolution has swept through Budapest like a tsunami over the past decade, with Horizont Brewery being at the crest of this swelling wave. Their bustling operation is housed alongside four other small, independent brewers in a retrofitted dystopian factory out in District X.
It was a grey and windy day in October and the mustard yellow 28A tram screeched into Blaha Lujza ter. I boarded this cantankerous chariot en route to my destination, the Horizont Brewery out in District X. Despite being one of the largest districts in all of Budapest, Kőbánya is usually completely overlooked. In two years I’d only made it up there to go to the bus station and get some grub in Chinatown.
30 minutes later I was approaching a behemoth of a building at 47 Maglódi ut. This was the address Tamás from Horizont had sent me earlier in the morning. I thought there must be a mistake. The building was absolutely gargantuan and seemed far too large for a small, independently run craft beer operation.
Yet no mistake had been made. I later learned that the enormous old factory was originally built in the tail end of the 19th century, as Király Serfőzde “Royal Brewery”. It was then turned into a canning factory during the communist era. Operating under the name Globus Canned Food Co for decades, before falling into disrepair and finally closing their doors 10 years ago.
Horizont’s old logo which has since been changed to something more modern and sleek. // photo: Willie Gevertz
That is until the landing of the revolution for craft beer in Budapest. Horizont, along with several other craft breweries has each carved out their own little enclave within the back of the run-down factory. A project that has repurposed abandonment in the pursuit of brewing excellence. I met Tamás outside the administrative office in the front of the brewery and he soon gave me free rein to watch the operations unfold. I began at the malting station.
Like any beer worth its salt, the Horizont process begins with selecting the best malt possible. A skilled operator ensures that the malt is selected for its aroma and consistency. Any small imperfection must be discarded.
The Horizont malt is primarily sourced from Germany and Belgium, and their hops, which are added later in the brewing process, are collected from around the globe depending on what type of brew is being created. Hazy, high IBU Indian Pale Ales, for example, utilize hops from Australia and New Zealand, while other batches use American hops and those from elsewhere.
Next, the batch is sent inside to the laboratory. It is here that science takes place. Brewing is an art, of course, but it is also a highly sophisticated piece of engineering. Any slight mishap or flaw can compromise the entire process.
Cleanliness is key to the whole rigamarole. Crucial in fact. They say that it is 90% of the battle when it comes to creating a delicious beer. Following the fermentation process, once quality is assured, the beer is finally ready to be bottled.
Now the machines take over. The bottler is an intricate, complex piece of equipment. One that is finely tuned for the injection of perfection. Filled bottles are sent down a conveyor belt. They are grasped by robotic arms, before getting crowned and labelled according to pre-calibrated specifications.
Of course, human supervision is still necessary. As I floated around the grounds with my camera, I noticed that several times in the bottling process something would come unstuck or get backed up, but immediately a Horizont brewer was ready at the rescue. Brewing beer is an elegant symbiosis between man and machine.
And finally, the beers are ready to be packaged and sent out towards the drinking halls of Budapest. In an average month, the brewery produces 28,0000 litres and this has gone all the way up to 34,000 in their record month. No small feat for an outfit with only 12 employees.
Though mostly consumed in the capital, Horizont has started sending their products all over Hungary and has even been exporting to numerous countries, including France, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia and UK.
Tamás tells me that their rapid success since inception in 2013 has been due to a vision of the limitless Horizon, an ode to their forward-thinking brand name. “We’re totally obsessed with innovating and refining our products. We really want to create the best quality possible, something that was missing from Hungarian brewing for a long time.”
This commitment has led Horizont to unrivalled recognition, becoming the first Hungarian brewery to win a Grand Champion Award at the Dublin Craft Beer Cup 2017. Last year their Altbier, Günther von Düsseldorf, was selected Grand Champion on the “Beer of Hungary” contest in 2018, while the Gentle Bastard came in 2nd in the IPA category.
My tour of Horizont had come to an end and I was left with a sense of awe from the story of how a previously discarded relic of a building has been repurposed into the home base for such a dynamic small business. Horizont Brewery is a testament to the type of local energy now being poured back into the periphery of Budapest’s neglected cityscape.
And their beers are genuinely delicious. Tamás gave me a sample of the award-winning altbier on the way out of the Brewery and my tastebuds were electrified. You can find Gunther, as well as Horizont’s other brews around the pubs of Budapest next time you are in town. My personal favourites are the Gentle Bastard (IPA), Hazy Queen (New England IPA), and the limited-edition Night Shift, which is a Jack Daniels barrel-aged imperial stout.
Thanks for reading folks. If you are interested in finding the best places to drink quality craft beer in Budapest, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Drinking Craft Beer in Budapest. Also makes sure you download the Like Locals app to uncover some more amazing local hotspots. It’s available for free on iOS and Android devices.