Sometimes referred to as the Hungarian national spirit, the Zwack family’s signature liquor, Unicum is over two centuries old and the history of this wince-inducing tipple is on display alongside Central Europe’s largest collection of mini alcohol bottles right in the Zwack distillery.
Unicum was originally invented in the late 1700s by King of Hungary Joseph II’s royal physician, Doctor Zwack. The super secret recipe which famously contains more than 40 different herbs was passed through the family line, becoming an unofficial national drink. Even when the family was exiled under Communist rule, the recipe was given to a confidant so that the drink could continue to be produced until the Zwacks could return, which they eventually did, founding the large distillery that stands today. The drink itself, a thick digestive, is known to be an acquired taste due to its (generously described) hearty flavor. Its bottle shape which is not unlike that of a cartoon wizard’s potion bottle, is yet another of the drink’s distinctive features.
Inside of the museum located on the distillery grounds there is a video telling the story of the Zwack family and a tour through the history of the drink. Along the way the gallery walls are covered in display cases filled with a massive collection of mini liquor bottles numbering over 17,000, making it the largest collection in Central Europe. The tour finishes out in the basement where bold tasters can sample the varieties of Unicum straight from the oak barrels in which they are still aged for half a year.
Unicum is no longer sold straight in the United States, instead a watered-down version simply called, Zwack is the only version imported. Whether this is because Americans can’t handle the ultra-bitter medicinal taste or just because Hungary is simply protective of their beloved aperitif is not explained during the tour.
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