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Unicum: History in a Bottle

Zwack Unicum, a special herbal liqueur present in approximately 30 countries around the world, is full of secrets, and its exact recipe has been strictly preserved by family members for more than two centuries. They claim that whoever sips Unicum today, may feel the same taste that Joseph the 2nd did in 1790, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

The story started when according to the family legend, Doctor Zwack, the court physician offered a sip of liqueur that he made to the ruler to help his digestion. Joseph the 2nd tasted it and exclaimed, “Dr. Zwack, das ist ein Unikum!”. Hence the name of the special drink. The descendant of the Doctor, József Zwack, founded his factory in Pest in 1840.

Unicum is made from more than 40 types of herbs and spices, sourced from five continents. A significant part of them come from the Carpathian Basin, but they also bring valuable raw materials from Morocco, China, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nigeria, America and Australia.

The mixture of spices in a certain proportion is supplemented with a special mixture made by the family in Italy, called the “heart of Unicum”. The ingredients of which are known only to the members of the family. They are then aged for several months in huge oak barrels in the factory cellar, before the drink is poured into the characteristic, rounded bottles.

The belief of the factory founder József Zwack was that the drinks should not be made from essences, but only from natural ingredients. During the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in 1895, it was awarded the prestigious Imperial and Royal Court Supplier title, and with that, its products it became one of the most important producers of liqueurs and spirits in the world.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, during the economic crisis, the company began manufacturing incandescent and fluorescent lamps to compensate for losses, which also appeared on the domestic market, illuminating the streets and squares of Budapest with Unicum’s neon signs.

At the end of World War II, the Zwack factory was almost destroyed to dust. In 1945, the family began to rebuild from the only two surviving rooms. However, the restored factory was nationalized in 1948 by the communist authorities without compensation. Between 1992 and 2008, the chairman of Zwack Unicum Rt. and then Plc. was Péter Zwack, who returned home from America. After his death, his children, Alexander and Izabella, took over the Zwack factory with the passion and commitment inherited from their predecessors.

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Photo: Unicum House