Quality Hop Cultivation Returns to Hungary

Last weekend, Heineken Hungary, the Hungarian Interchurch Aid and the Ministry of Agriculture celebrated the reaping of the first hop plants in Kastélyosdombó.

Close/up of hogs flowers
Beeld: ©.
Hop cultivation has a long tradition in Hungary.

It was one of the last warm, sunny days of the summer last Saturday when we visited Kastélyosdombó, in Southwestern Hungary, for a special occasion: The first hop harvest in the country in years.

Kastélyosdombó is a small, quiet, sunlit village very close to the Croatian border in Somogy County, Southern Transdanubia. We travel narrow country roads through verdant, green forests to reach the huddled-together houses. At the edge of the village stands an impressive, cozy manor house in the neoclassical style of the 19th century Hungarian Reform Age, white walls ablaze with late August sunlight. Around it, there are tidy lawns, there is a neatly renovated little village church and a tiny herb garden with rows of lilac flowers. In the castle grounds stand forty-meters-tall, impressive, century-old plane and chestnut trees and beyond the little park, stretches what seems like a green wall of snaky vines – A sight not seen in Hungary in a decade. A hop plantation.

Hop being harvested with a tractor at the Kastélyosdombó plantation
Beeld: ©Heineken Hungary
Ceremonic harvest at the pilot plantation

Here, at the Kastélyosdombó Castle is where the Hungarian Interchurch Aid maintains a Social and Development Center for families in need. The complex has its own cheese manufacture, a guest center, animal pens – But there is also another important project attached to it. In 2018, with the aid of the Ministry of Agriculture, Heineken Hungary and the Interchurch Aid launched a new hop plantation at the site. The pilot parcel was only one hectare in size. Heineken Hungary provided financial support for the project and also committed to purchase the harvested produce at market price for use in their domestic brands.

Hop cultivation is very labor-intensive and it also requires a considerable investment into the supporting technological infrastructure. In 2018, when the project started with Heineken’s financial backing and the Interchuch Aid doing considerable background work on the acquisition of the technical know-how, the preliminary groundwork included the preparation of the soil for plantation, the placement of the anchor poles and cable system for the plants and the construction of the supporting processing infrastructure. In its pilot phase the one-hectare parcel was planted with the Perle, Saazer and Chinook varieties.

The plantation’s processing facility was designed to have enough capacity to support scaled-up cultivation in the future however. Here the freshly reaped vines are stripped, the hops flowers separated, processed, dried and pelleted, ready for shipment to the beer factory – However, this diverse plant has many advantages and can also be used in the medical industry.

On Saturday, this process was showcased with the symbolic reaping and processing of hops.

Hops laid out to dry in a large cotainer
Beeld: ©Heineken Hungary
Freshly harvested hops are dried, processed and pelleted in the facility before they are bagged for shipment.

“It is our goal to make Hungarian agriculture more diverse and resilient. Reviving previously well performing, historic sectors like hop cultivation has a special role in achieving this. Hungarian agriculture can only meet market challenges if it relies more and more on domestic commodities and a progressivley widening range of Hungarian products” – commented Minister for Agriculture István Nagy at the harvest celebration. The Minister also announced that between August 31 and September 22, producers can apply for financial support within the framework of a €423 thousand subsidy program which can support the enlargement of domestic hop production by up to twenty hectares.

“We are pleased that through cooperation, we can make Hungary one of the hop-producing countries again,” said President of the Hungarian Interchurch Aid László Lehel in his speech. “Throughout the past two years since planting, our colleagues together with the local families gained much experience in hop cultivation.”

The project, which has multiple goals, was designed not only to reestablish hop production in Hungary and provide Heineken’s historic Hungarian beer brand, Soproni, with domestically produced hop but also to aid local families in need through job creation and establishing a stream of income for the local community.

Minister fr Agriculture István Nagy gives speech at press conference
Beeld: ©Heineken Hungary
Minister for Agriculture Dr. István Nagy spoke of the significance of hop being harvested again Hungary after so many years.

“Producing materials for beer production can be a path out of poverty. In every part of the world, Heineken especially values local communities and local products,” commented Heineken Hungary CEO Geert Swaanenburg.

At the celebration, guests could spectate as the vines laden with excellent quality flowers were cut, the fragrant blooms being stripped in the machinery and loaded into the drying apparatus. With the Kastélyosdombó hop, Heineken’s Soproni beer brand will soon become the first beer in years to be produced using exclusively Hungarian ingredients.