The Craft Beer Manifesto - Mad Scientist
S omewhere in the outskirts of Budapest there’s a factory that looks just like a residence of a villain in a steam-punk graphic novel. This is where the Mad Scientist resides.
It was a Tuesday morning when I managed to visit the Mad Scientist brewery in the X. district of Budapest. The location is inherently intertwined with local brewing history. The M47 business park that houses the brewery used to be a huge brewery of Fővárosi Serfőző built in 1912. The site is truly astonishing. The bright red brickwork, stone beer casks overlooking the entrance and the Zsolnay tiles make this place one of the most astonishing industrial heritage sites in the city.
This is where the three founders of Mad Scientist, Csaba Tarján, Tamás Szilágyi and Gergő Závodszky started up their operation in 2016. In this short time, they became one of the most visible and recognisable craft beer brands in Hungary. They are driven by the passion for beer and their uncompromising desire to deliver only the highest quality products to customers. On top of creating amazing beer they are are backing some important social causes as well. I asked Tamás Szilágyi about the history of the brewery and about their mission.
I’ve been away from Hungary for a while, how is the beer market now?
The beer market is still a developing. As such the demand is growing monotonously because people are slowly getting informed about all the new options out there. When a graph is running up like that, inevitably there will be entrepreneurs that will see the trend and want in. And when someone sees an opportunity there will be others too. The graph of supply will look more like a sinus signal wave with lots of peaks over the demand. This of course will even out in time but that period can be painful for a lot of breweries.
That period can be painful for a lot of breweries
Now we are probably at the point where there’s more beer available than demand in the mid-premium range. But this is not all bad news especially for the consumer. This situation drives the qualitative competition and the customers can benefit from this by finding higher quality beers on the shelves.
You have been very vocal about the importance of quality in brewing. What was your goal, when you released the Kraft Beer Manifesto, only a couple of months after the brewery started?
The Kraft Beer Manifesto was pretty much our Ars Poetica. There was some misunderstanding surrounding that statement when it first came out. Some brewers took offense for sure, but we did not want to reinvent the wheel. We didn’t want to be the judges of what’s good and what’s crap either. Rather, it was about laying down the ground rules for making consistent high quality beer.
The ground rules for making consistent, high quality beer
I have a background in professional poker and I find this experience invaluable. There’s many analogies between the two worlds. If I look at our situation, we started the brewery when there’s a lot of competition and it takes more effort to stay afloat. The breweries that started in a bigger demand period before us are like a cardplayer who had good luck in the beginning of their career and won big. It’s dangerous because it was down to pure luck and he has no idea what he is capable of.
This leads to an inflated ego or in the case of a brewery they will stagnate and stop responding to the changing market. That’s what’s happening now some breweries won’t make the cut and eventually fail.
Make the best fucking beer you can
What I collected in the manifesto is meant to be a guide how to navigate the market in a though situation like this. People would like to think that the craft beer they but is the real deal, the best the brewery can out and their heart and soul is in that bottle. And the easiest way to live up to this expectation if you make the best fucking beer you can. Breweries need to be enthusiastic but also show this enthusiasm because otherwise the customer will also get bored and won’t come back.
I think the events of the past months have validated my hypothesis. We used the manifesto as a guide and based on the feedbacks it seems like our customers like the results.
Do you have plans to export your beer and compete on other market?
We have a barrel on tap in the Berlin Brewdog Bar as we speak! We now deliver to Berlin full pallets not just to showcase the products and they actually sell well. We have great feedback from there, it seems like people dig our beers. Of course, it wouldn’t even be there is it wasn’t up to par.
The German market is less price conscious than the Hungarian but they expect high quality. Just an example, in Hungary the publicans have an idea what their customers are probably willing to spend on a pint and they will buy the cheaper options from our range. In Berlin, they buy the premium beer, price it up and they know there will be customer for it.
Jam 72 is also available through a large grocery chain in Hungary, where customers are considered even more price conscious. Aren’t you afraid of deteriorating brand value selling through this channel?
This is a valid question. To further upgrade our brewery, we need to sell more beer. Selling in grocery chains is a good opportunity to make ourselves visible, to show we are a valid choice. I’m even okay with people not buying our beer there. But they will see it.
The next time they see our stand on a festival it will be familiar to them. Even if this is not a conscious effort visibility raises brand awareness and when people eventually taste our beer I know they will have a pleasant experience. Now, the Hungarian market is years behind the Western European market. Hence we can’t afford to be exclusive to certain establishments. Even the biggest craft beer pubs and bottle shops have a surprisingly low turnover.
In the M47 business park there’s several craft breweries operating currently. How did this brewery cluster start?
Well, we all have a common goal, to grow the craft beer market, it made sense to move to place where there are other brewers around. However, there’s still competition among us. We all find time to help each other out and do certain activities for the common goals.
By doing so we ensure that that the craft beer pie keeps growing and it’s up to us how big slice we can get out of it. If you look at our communication, our products and our packaging is all different but the passion for good beer is the same.
Now that you mention packaging your labels are very attractive. What’s the connection between the packaging and the contents of the bottle?
Brewing beer is like having children. You want your little princess to be smart but also to look smart. This is what we tried to achieve by ditching traditional graphic design and we commissioned an artist to create all our labels.
Brewing beer is like having children.
András Baranyai creates all the illustrations we use on our beers. He usually illustrates book covers and designs limited art prints. I was expecting this to be a difficult process since I was not sending over a brief, but just telling Andris the concept and my philosophy that he would interpret in his own artistic style.
This is a longer and more expensive process, but it’s all worth it because the product will have soul. People are looking for unique products with personality they can relate to, that’s why people are ditching mass produced goods lately. Our brand promises that. If they buy our beer they will have an amazing experience and the label is the visual representation of this. The design is an integral part of the product as most of the time this is the first interaction the consumers have with the brand.
On top of your commitment to great beer you are also committed to support a cause. Can you tell me about the project with the Noé Foundation?
We give away a case of beer to the person who adopts a dog from the shelter operated by the foundation. We wanted to do such actions from the very beginning but there were no funds to do so as start-up funds were tight.
After a while we participated in many competitions and realised it is probably not for us. Winning a gold in a competition is nice and we’ve been there, but it is not relevant. The judges we must convince are the customers. So, we took the money that we would’ve spent on entry fees and started to participate in programs like this. It was totally worth it!