Louise Crane meets Reketye


Like all the best breweries, Reketye started out with a pun. On the edge of the Danube in Hungary, there is a giant glass and metal building shaped like a whale that lay empty for years before becoming a shopping centre. At the end of this mall you’ll find Jónás - but no, not the man taken from Biblical tales - a craft brewhouse established by the Reketye-Trifan brothers Zoltán and Károly in 2013. Customers sit under a mural depicting how beer is made, while drinking beer from the Reketye microbrewery out of town. Their first beer, Ravasz Hód (aka “Crafty Beaver”) launched here in 2014, and they’ve not looked back since. Instead, they “look into the trends of today and create the ones of tomorrow.”

Speaking to Zoltán about the creation of Jónás, he says “The goal was to create something unique where we'd be happy to spend time, and we're picky customers! So we wanted to create an environment where we are satisfied with service and quality of the beers. And also we wanted to make it unique. So it was pretty easy to realise we should have our own beer.”

They started out as gypsy brewers, contract brewing elsewhere, and while the bar was running the family was simultaneously trying to open up their own brewery, a pretty hard task at that time. Zoltán explains, “Things have changed ever since, but at that point it was really, really difficult to get the licenses and everything.” It was almost a year between opening bar and brewery. “So that was the basic idea, if you’re a manufacturer you are a wholesaler and if you are the final seller as well, then it makes your place unique - but you also have three times the costs! Of course at that time we didn't know much about how to run a brewery, and we still have our problems and our ups and downs. Ever since it's a constant investment and a huge learning curve, but we are getting there.”

When Jónás opened in November 2013, apart from Only Good Beer, the beer aficionado’s institution with 300 different bottles lining the walls, there was only one other place dedicated to craft beer in Budapest. There wasn’t really a Hungarian craft beer scene back then. Only Good Beer was mostly selling good quality beer from Belgium and Britain, rather than Hungarian beers. In 2013 there were about 30 breweries left in the country, mostly old school beers, according to Zoltán, nothing really special or good quality, aiming for low cost. “This new boom started out in 2014 and we were the second brewery - Legend was the first.” (Zoltán is at pains to make out that Legend are not egomaniacs, they're actually on a street called Legend.) “This is where we contract-brewed actually, for the beginning, and then we opened up our own brewery, then came Monyo and Mad Scientist and other breweries. They opened up half a year later.”

“In the beginning, you know, it’s like classic, everybody tried to make big beers, big alcohol, big hops and everything. So we slowly developed everything and changed our brewhouse twice since we opened. Now we're going with something we can accept.” Their brewkit is now pretty sophisticated, with a pre-whirlpool cooler and reverse osmosis water treatment. “It's not really automated,” explains Zoltán, “The big upside of the brewery is that we can touch the beer at any point, so it allows us a wide movement area in personalising and making the beers unique, which is a good thing. The pre-whirlpool cooler for example is very, very important and we also have a reverse osmosis RO water cleaner, which was also one of the first in Hungary installed. This allows us to create a water profile for every beer differently. So we're not brewing with the same water for every beer but we're running it through the RO and then we are adding the minerals exactly to the type of beer that we’re brewing. Like an IPA will require a different water profile to a lager or a wheat beer or a sour. So you have to make adjustments and you can only do this if you can touch the beer at every point. So it's not the most modern brewhouse, but it is a handy little thing, absolutely”.

Zoltán is not the kind of brewer who slavishly follows style. “So there is a classic description for every type of beer, but I'll want to put in some kind of twists in there all the time. So for example we've just brewed a gose which is not meant to be hoppy, but we’ve dry hopped it, so here you go there's something that you're not necessarily going to expect. And incidentally that was the first sour beer brewed in Hungary too.” This beer is L.A.B., short for lacto acid bacteria, which are responsible for the sourness in a gose. It’s not too sour, not too salty, just really refreshing. Then there’s the sour NEIPA, Kettlesourus, bombing in at 8% abv. “I’m not saying I invented it because that would sound really stupid, and it’s not even true, but definitely some well-experienced beer drinkers tried the first batch and they were like ‘what the fuck this beer doesn’t exist at all.’”

How does Reketye respond to the pressure to carry on innovating and surprising people? Zoltán says, “In this industry, if you think your beer is ready, you are dead. To think you made something perfect is hubris and that's not cool. You've got to be humble to the beer, and it’s a living thing, you know? We're constantly improving the brewery, we're setting up a laboratory right now so that we don't have to send our samples for testing to other labs, and also microbiological tests mean we are experimenting with yeast much more deliberately.” They may not be brewing for the geeks - Zoltán tips his hat to Mad Scientist, who he says are much better at that, and unlike Reketye, they have the capacity to come up with a new beer every two weeks, “especially as Beer52 took all our fermenting capacity! So, trying to be innovative and leading the scene are two different things,” he says. “We may not be leading the scene, but we try to be innovative and look for new ideas…. you never can be satisfied with your stuff, you always have to improve it, but we are now. We can put our face next to it.”

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