When the weather gets hot in Hungary—and stays hot for months—there’s nothing like a cool, fizzy fröccs. Fröccs (which translates as “spritzer”) is a mixture of soda water and wine, which refreshes (and gives a mild, long-lasting buzz). It’s the ultimate summer go-to drink in Hungary, and there are plenty of places in Budapest to explore the drink in its many variations. Wine puritans may scoff at the idea of diluting wine, but in Hungary and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe fröccs drinking is the rigeuer de jour once the sweaty season arrives. For all its variations and new-wave popularity, this fizzy refreshment is imbibed by men and women of all ages and social classes. In short, fröccs is Hungary’s best prescription to beat the heat.
While Magyar ingenuity is legendary, bringing the world everything from matches to ballpoint pens to the deceptively complicated Rubik’s cube, not many know that even the humble wine spritzer has it’s origins in Hungary. Inventor Ányos Jedlik (the creator of the world’s first electric motor) is known said to have been the first one to devise a way to create soda water on an industrial scale in 1826, effectively leading to the beloved combination of the fizzy water with wine.
According to local lore, the term fröccs was later coined by poet Mihály Vörösmarty, who in the company of Jedlik, drank copious amounts of the drink and even wrote a poem about it. By the late 19th and early 20th century it became a staple sold throughout the country—from Budapest’s many ritzy coffeehouses to the busy railroad stations—and was consumed by people of all walks of life. The term “fröccsözni” (to drink one or many wine spritzers) became as popular as the drink itself, appearing in the works of many of the era’s famous authors, including Sándor Bródy, Gyula Krúdy, Ferenc Molnár, and Sándor Márai.
Hungarians took to fröccs with the fervor of religious crusader and after a long process of experimentation and sophisticated alchemy, there are now more than 20 variations of the drink based on different proportions of wine versus soda water. The most common varieties are kisfröccs (small fröccs: 1 dl of wine and 1 dl soda water) and nagyfröccs (big fröccs: 2 dl wine and 1 dl soda water), but other popular version include hosszúlépés (long step: 1 dl wine and 2 dl soda water), házmester (landlord: 3 dl wine and 2 dl soda water), viceházmester (vice landlord: 2 dl wine and 3 dl soda water), while the super-thirsty opting for polgármester (mayor: 6 dl wine and 4 dl soda water).
There’s a roundup of the best-known fröccs types in the image below, but smartphone users also have an app for that: Fröccs by Kitchen Budapest.
Wines Good for Fröccs
While wine spritzers may feel like a wishy-washy option for purists who may see it as a way of making a mediocre bottle more acceptable, there are many fine wines that are perfect source material for this refreshing, undemanding beverage. Sweet, full-bodied, barrel-aged, or wines with high minerality are usually not recommended for fröccs. Fruity, aromatic, and unoaked white wines usually work best with the dilution. A fröccs is usually made of white wine, but sometimes from one of Hungary’s increasingly delectable roses. A fail-safe option is a young white which is mildly fruity and provides crispness, vitality, and sharpness. The key is finding the balance between bubbles and wine, with neither one stealing the show. But the best idea is to do a little DIY experimentation and see which combo creates the most satisfying spritzer for to your taste. In terms of Hungarian white varietals, Irsai Olivér, Olaszrizling and Cserszegi Fűszeres are a few popular options.
Best Fröccs Spots in Budapest
In Hungary, the general rule is where there is wine there is fröccs, but high-end wine bars and sommeliers might get offended by the request of diluting their precious libations. There are, however, several speciality wine bars and fröccs joints throughout Budapest which offer obscure varieties and delicious fröccs specialties, including ones flavored with syrups. Fröccsterasz (1051 Budapest, Erzsébet tér 1, +36 30 651 3170) in the heart of the all the night-life activity in central Pest treats its namesake drink as a real cocktail, offering a dazzling variety to suit all tastes. The newly-opened little sister of Kiosk is Terasz (1052, Budapest, Március 15. tér 4). This compact little fröccs shack is surrounded by plenty of lawn chairs and sells the usual stuff alongside more adventurous cocktails, including ones with cinnamon, vanilla, rosehips, and raspberry-elderflower syrups. Well-stocked wine bars like Drop Shop (1055 Budapest, Balassi Bálint utca 27) and Palack (1114 Budapest, Szent Gellért Tér 3, +36 30 997 1902) pour various types of fröccs with finesse, but for the real laid-back experience there’s no better places than a bar within a cool garden, such as Csendes Társ (1053 Budapest, Magyar utca 18) next to Károlyi Garden, WNDRLND on Margit Island or TáBor (1024 Budapest, Kis Rókus utca 16-20) in the Millenáris Park.