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Unicum by Zwack

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There is a long tradition in Continental Europe of alcoholic bitters. Formerly marketed as “tonics”, these are now generally sold as digestifs but are often simply enjoyed whenever the occasion demands. Only a few of the dozens of the bitters produced in Europe make their way outside of their country of origin. Of those that are exported outside of Europe, Jägermeister and Underberg (both from Germany) are probably the best known but are comparatively mild in flavour. Fernet-Branca from Italy is another example which has a bit more bite and is also commonly available.

Eclipsing these is Unicum by Zwack from Hungary made to a recipe dating from the late 1700s.

There are no half-measures with Unicum – it is a drink that you will either love or detest (and as you can tell from my rankings I’m firmly in the “love” camp). There is nothing subtle about the taste of Unicum – it simply assaults your taste and olfactory senses. I’m also convinced that unless you have grown up with bitters from a younger age, it takes a certain maturity in one’s taste buds to enjoy Unicum - so much so that I suspect that anyone under the age of 30 will probably gag at taking the smallest sip of the drink (Search for “Unicum” on YouTube for videos of “daring” youth doing just this).

However once you have reached a certain age, chances are much higher that you will understand why it has such a cult following in Hungary where it is regarded as that county’s national drink. If you enjoy sharp flavours of foods such as olives or rollmops, you stand a better chance of enjoying Unicum.

So what does it taste like? Yes it is bitter, but there is also a huge underlying range of complex herbal flavours that envelop the tongue and nasal passages. An image that goes through my mind when ever I drink Unicum is that it tastes like a forest in summer with a mixture of herbal and mossy scents and aromas. Like many such bitters, the recipe is a closely guarded secret known only to the Zwack family.

How to drink it? My personal preference is to keep the bottle in the fridge and to drink it ice-cold in small shot glasses. The drink is almost jet-black and it has a distinctive oily texture. It works well as a beer chaser, but I can’t imagine wanting to mix it down with anything. The bottle is also very distinctive being a glass orb which when full it looks uncannily like a classic anarchist’s bomb as drawn by generations of cartoonists and animators.

I haven’t commented on its price or value as I imagine this will vary greatly from country to country. Unless you are visiting Hungary, you will need to track it down in a specialty liquor outlet.

Note that this is a different drink from the one marketed simply as "Zwack" (formerly "Unicum Next") in parts of North America. "Zwack" is more like a super-mild version of Unicum more akin to Jägermeister and designed to appeal to standard American taste-buds. Seek out the real thing.

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Interestingly enough, in London Drugs stores (western Canada) this stuff is sold at pharmacy counter.
There is a long tradition in Continental Europe of alcoholic bitters. Formerly marketed as “tonics”, these are now generally sold as digestifs but are often simply enjoyed whenever the occasion demands. Only a few of the dozens of the bitters produced in Europe make their way outside of their country of origin. Of those that are exported outside of Europe, Jägermeister and Underberg (both from Germany) are probably the best known but are comparatively mild in flavour. Fernet-Branca from Italy is another example which has a bit more bite and is also commonly available.

Eclipsing these is Unicum by Zwack from Hungary made to a recipe dating from the late 1700s.

There are no half-measures with Unicum – it is a drink that you will either love or detest (and as you can tell from my rankings I’m firmly in the “love” camp). There is nothing subtle about the taste of Unicum – it simply assaults your taste and olfactory senses. I’m also convinced that unless you have grown up with bitters from a younger age, it takes a certain maturity in one’s taste buds to enjoy Unicum - so much so that I suspect that anyone under the age of 30 will probably gag at taking the smallest sip of the drink (Search for “Unicum” on YouTube for videos of “daring” youth doing just this).

However once you have reached a certain age, chances are much higher that you will understand why it has such a cult following in Hungary where it is regarded as that county’s national drink. If you enjoy sharp flavours of foods such as olives or rollmops, you stand a better chance of enjoying Unicum.

So what does it taste like? Yes it is bitter, but there is also a huge underlying range of complex herbal flavours that envelop the tongue and nasal passages. An image that goes through my mind when ever I drink Unicum is that it tastes like a forest in summer with a mixture of herbal and mossy scents and aromas. Like many such bitters, the recipe is a closely guarded secret known only to the Zwack family.

How to drink it? My personal preference is to keep the bottle in the fridge and to drink it ice-cold in small shot glasses. The drink is almost jet-black and it has a distinctive oily texture. It works well as a beer chaser, but I can’t imagine wanting to mix it down with anything. The bottle is also very distinctive being a glass orb which when full it looks uncannily like a classic anarchist’s bomb as drawn by generations of cartoonists and animators.

I haven’t commented on its price or value as I imagine this will vary greatly from country to country. Unless you are visiting Hungary, you will need to track it down in a specialty liquor outlet.

Note that this is a different drink from the one marketed simply as "Zwack" (formerly "Unicum Next") in parts of North America. "Zwack" is more like a super-mild version of Unicum more akin to Jägermeister and designed to appeal to standard American taste-buds. Seek out the real thing.
Aroma
5.00 star(s)
Price
1.00 star(s)
Value
1.00 star(s)
Flavor
5.00 star(s)
Quality
5.00 star(s)
Packaging
5.00 star(s)

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