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I travelled to Budapest for a week early in 2011. One of the main things I enjoy about visiting new places is the chance to sample local delicacies, whether that's food, drink, alcohol, etc. Unicum is something of a Hungarian institution - it has great historical significance, and is held in high regard by Hungarian people, so it was at the top of my list as the perfect new thing to try (along with Gulash obviously!). The drink itself is has been brewed for hundreds of years, and is made from a unique blend of herbs. In appearance it is a thick-looking, almost black liquid, not dissimilar to Jagermesiter, or maybe even Covonia (the cough mixture). In fact, due to the almost medicinal aroma, Covonia is the best comparison! The unique blend of herbs certainly gives a "unique" taste which is very difficult to describe. 'Sweet and Sour' or 'Bitter-sweet' is probably the best way to describe the complex taste - there are bitter, citrous elements to the flavour, but also some richness to it too, and as I mentioned something 'medicinal' which is hard to put your finger on, almost like the pink mouthwash you get at the dentist. It's apparently best consumed with a little ice, and was mainly intended as a Digestive (after dinner). Apparently it can make a decent cocktail or mix drink, although I can't imagine what with. However, it might be a little more palatable for many when combined with a decent mixer. On first sample, my girlfriend said it was absolutely disgusting, and I was almost inclined to agree, but I couldn't help wanting to try a little more. Since, it has grown on me quite nicely, and I've got a lot more accustomed to the taste. My girlfriend has not changed her mind, but that means all the more for me! Warning - don't let it grow on you too quickly - at over 40% alcohol content, you may feel like you've been 'Zwack'ed around the head in the morning...
I understood this drink to have a long mythology behind it as a sort of national treasure of Hungary because kings and nobles drank it. So when I was offered some to drink I did not want to refuse it even though it looks and smells rather weird. I did not want to seem like I was insulting something 'special' to Hungary, so I accepted a shot of this strange drink. I was actually given some of this as a hangover cure and I really couldn't believe how awful it was. What were those kings and noblemen thinking?! This stuff is terrible! I would describe it as tasting like flat Coca Cola mixed with toothpaste with the smell of some weird old elixir your worrying old grandmother keeps in her medicine cabinet and makes you ingest if you cough more than once. The worst part was it didn't help my hangover! Maybe the trick is, you drink this stuff and afterward all you can think about is how nasty it is and how bad you want to get that nasty taste out of your mouth and memory, that you completely forget that you are hungover. Even so it didn't exactly work for me. Dear Hungary, if you want to promote Hungarian things to foreigners don't do it with this stuff, use pálinka instead.
Zwack is a great product. It's similar to Jager, but higher proof and not as thick. It has a honey citrus finish that makes it a great liquor to mix. My favorite is a Zwack Off. Mix Zwack, Smirnoff Orange and Red Bull.
I came across a bottle of unicum at the back of a drawer in my last office in the City. It was 2 years out of date and smelt like Deep Heat. By tradition myself and my work partner used to have a swig when we had completed the month end pack each month until my boss finally made me chuck it away. Being a liquor you would think the use by date would be almost unlimited so I've no idea how old that stuff was. Definately only for the desparate you are better off sticking to paint stripper !!
Unicum is, as its name suggests, unique. It is a herbal liqueur made at an independent distillery on the banks of the Danube in Budapest, Hungary, owned by the Zwack family. The recipe contains nearly thirty spices and herbs, creating an extraordinarily intense dark brown bittersweet potion. Imagine distilled Campari with a drop of black treacle and a touch of anaesthetic added to it. You can visit the distillery on Saturdays, see a genuinely interesting video about the drink and its history (didn't yawn once), visit its museum containing the largest public collection of miniatures in the world (they think), then try the liqueur and a couple of the Zwack family's other creations. If you like undemanding nice drinks you can put a little umbrella in then forget it. But if you are someone who wants to try as many amazing taste experiences you can before you die then put this on your "most wanted" list.
When I went to Hungary my boyfriend decided to try some of the local drink - unicum. I thought he was mad and on first taste decided that he was. Over the 4 nights we were there we tried a glass of unicum each night - and each night we got to like it more. This meant that once at the airport we couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy a bottle of the black liquer. It became a bit of a hit between us but due to our limited supply we drank small quantities (also its almost 50% so very potent!). All we need now is another trip to Hungary to get some more!
A while ago we took one of those day cruises, for the purpose of stocking up on a little cheap drink, what with Easter coming up (any excuse). Rather than buying the usual few bottles of Absolut Vodka and Baileys (which we already had in the cupboard from Duty Free anyway), we decided to try something different. Whilst my other half seemed attractive to a bottle of Dooleys, I was drawn to something even odder - Unicum Herb Liqueur. It's very name conjures up thoughts of some medicinal and somewhat different experience. That's before you even see the bottle - a stubby round gree n affair with a big blatant red and gold cross on the front. This is a 500ml bottle, and it cost around the £6 mark I should think. It's also available in a metal tin, like some good whiskeys. There's not much else on the bottle to indicate it's contents - no description, other than it's 40% alc content, and that's it made in Hungary by a company called Zwack Unicum Co. Ltd. So, it was a bit of a gamble - I mean, how many hungarian drinks have you tried? Getting it home, it found a home amongst the other bottles, until one night it came out for a tasting. First though, a good smell. Ummm...well smells of herbs and spices, not sure which ones, although there are apparently more than 40 in it. It doesn't smell like it's going to taste too good either. Funnily, one Budapest guide described Unicum as smelling like a "hospital corridor"... At this point, I refer to the company website, as I'm not sure how to drink it. I find out that Unicum is a "digestive liqueur", made with a secret recipe of the Zwack family. In fact it was originally designed to "alleviate the royal digestion", in 1790. A factory was built in 1840, where young 4;ozsef Zwack produced Unicum along with a staggering 220 other liqueurs and brandies. And so the recipe passed down the line, always keeping it in the family - and I'm still no wiser what's actually in it. What I did find out though is that it can be drunk neat with ice, with coke or in cocktails. It can be an alternative to brandy or whisky on a cold winter day, and acts like a shot of adrenaline supposedly. Many of the Unicum herbs are energy enhancing, and some claim it may also be an aphrodisiac, and although I can't confirm this, it's also claimed to be unbeatable as a hangover cure. The distinctive bitter-sweet taste is due to the way it's produced. Some of the ingredients are soaked for a month, while the rest is distilled. It all then comes together in oak casks for an aging of at least six months. Pouring it into the tiniest glass I could find, it doesn't look too nice either. It's a kind of very dark brown, and I can't keep help thinking of cough mixture, maybe it's still the smell putting me off....and I'm now thinking of hospital corridors. The website assures me that "Once an Unicum drinker always an Unicum drinker...". Hmmm well I hate to prove them wrong, but to be honest of all the people who tried this, myself included - well it's not nice. It's worse than anything I've ever tasted. The taste of herbs stays around for a while, and you feel you just eaten something very spicy. Maybe it'll grow on me, hmmm....no I don't think so. I can't really recommend this to anyone, not neat anyway, even if you can find it in the UK. With Hungary becoming part of the EU in May however, you may start to see it appear. You can also buy it of course in Hungary, where it's actually very p opular and often referred to as "Hungarian National Accelerator" Here's a simple way to "enjoy" this drink in a cocktail...it's called a Black Snowball by the way: 2/3 oz. Unicum 6 oz. mulled wine Combine the mulled wine and Unicum in a glass. Garnish with a whole cinnamon and orange peel...mmmm. Just one more...it's called a "Blackout" Pour equal measures of (first) Sambuca and (carefully with a spoon on the top), Unicum. Down it....eek. For more information about this product and the company, go to http://www.zwackunicum.hu - you must agree that it is not recommended to drink their products unless you are 18 years or over to enter! The website it actually quite entertaining though, especially the section where Csaba Gulyás, your personal mixer asks questions like "May the pink intoxication come?"....what is he on? Unicum perhaps.