GSS Navigator: Zwack Unicum is the unique essence of Hungary

Tue, 22/12/2020

A drink so extraordinarily good it can only be matched by a story of its origin

Ask a tourist what their association to Hungary is, and no doubt, they would mention the Parliament building, bridges of Budapest or Lake Balaton. Ask a local the same question, and you will hear of Unicum.

This bitter, yet bold herbal liqueur is mainly consumed as an aperitif before meals or a digestif following meals. The dark amber-hued drink is a unique blend of more than 40 different herbs and spices which are distilled and aged in oak casks for at least six months. For those with a taste for the drink, but without quite a palate to follow, there is a slightly different version of the liqueur known as Unicum Next, made from the same recipe, but slightly less bitter and with a faint citrusy aftertaste.

The story behind this liquor is just as extraordinary as its taste. It was in 1790 that Doctor Zwack, Royal Physician to the Imperial Court, offered Emperor Leopold II, the Habsburg monarch, with a sip of Unicum as a remedy for indigestion. Legend would have it that the Emperor’s comment was: ‘Dr. Zwack, das ist ein Unikum!’ (Dr Zwack, this is unique!) giving the liqueur its name, and the royal positive remark helped spread the popularity of the drink far beyond the Court in Vienna.

Fifty years were to pass before a descendent of Doctor Zwack, Jozsef Zwack, founded the Zwack company, the first Hungarian liqueur manufacturer. By the early 1900s, J. Zwack & Co had become one of the largest distilleries in central Europe, producing and exporting over 200 liqueurs and spirits.

The Second World War was devastating for the Zwack distillery and left the plant in ruins. As soon as the war was over, the family began rebuilding and modernizing the factory and by the time it was completely restored to its pre-war status in 1948, the distillery was confiscated by the State without compensation, leaving the Zwack family forced to flee the country. János Zwack was able to escape with the original Unicum recipe and migrated to the United States with his son Péter and a strong determination to keep the Zwack name alive.

In 1988, just one year before the fall of Communism, Péter Zwack returned to Hungary and resumed production with the original Zwack formula. He re-purchased his family business from the State and by the spring of 1990, Unicum was re-introduced to the Hungarian market. Not much later, regular shares of the corporation were listed on the Budapest Stock Exchange as well. What started out as a family business more than 150 years ago, is still a family-owned company, helmed by Péter Zwack’s children, Sándor and Izabella.

As the year end festivities are approaching, we would like to toast to all our clients and partners with a virtual glass of Unicum. We wish you all a beautiful Holiday Season!
Cheers, or as they would say in Hungary - Egészségedre!