Herr Zwack, das ist ein Unicum

Unicum is one of the most famous Hungarian trademarks, which stands for the bitter liqueur of the Zwack company, and the product line built around it. The best-known elements of its marketing are the recipe and its secrecy, which is said to be from 1790, but the known history of the drink began in 1883, when József Zwack patented the name, bottle and label of Unicum. The Hungaricum Club, which includes Zwack Unicum Nyrt., has considered Unicum as a Hungaricum since 2015.

The original flavour

Strongly bitter, dry liqueur, which is mainly consumed as an aperitif due to its appetite-stimulating effect. It is made from a mixture of more than forty types of herbs and spices, most of which come from the Carpathian Basin, but ingredients for the drink also come from Morocco, China, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nigeria, America and Australia.

It is made using complex technology, one part of the juice is produced by extraction, and the other part is produced by distillation.

How is Unicum made?

Distillation plays an important role in the creation of Unicum’s inimitable character because the process also brings out flavours from the herbs that are not present during extraction. The characteristic taste of Unicum is completed by aging in oak barrels.

It has similar foundations as Underberg. The recipe here is also secret, the drink is made from more than 40 types of herbs (among them Kalum root, orange peel, ginger, rhubarb and cardamom), which are soaked in spirits for a few weeks so that the necessary flavours are released from them, and then some of the infusions are evaporated before use. However, the six-month aging in oak barrels also plays a big role in achieving the unique flavour of Unicum.

Unicum has been produced based on an unchanged recipe since 1892 in Zwack Unicum’s Soroksári road cellar system. The drink is aged in hundreds of oak barrels in the cellar labyrinth under the building. Its alcohol content is 40%.

The secret recipe

The herbs used in the drink are measured by hand, while the special ingredients called the “heart” of Unicum are personally measured by a family member, who is now Péter Zwack’s widow, Anne Marshall Zwack. The way to extract the flavour/fragrance is by extracting and distilling – in the case of Unicum, half of the herbs are extracted and the rest distilled. During extraction, the herbs are immersed in corn alcohol, this process gives the drink its intense flavour. After that, the crushed and distilled herbs are mixed in a traditional wooden vat to keep the quality of Unicum the same, then the master distiller and the established tasting committee participate in a tasting led by a member of the Zwack family, where they taste the Unicum straight from the barrel. The last stage of production is aging in oak barrels. This takes place in the labyrinth of cellars running under the Soroksári road plant, where Unicum is still aged in 500 oak barrels.